Washing and bathing

Find out why washing and bathing can become difficult for people with dementia, and get practical tips for helping a person to wash.

As a person's dementia progresses, they will need more help with everyday activities such as washing and bathing. For most adults, washing is a personal and private activity so it can be hard to adjust to this change.

When you are helping someone with dementia to wash, it is important to be sensitive, tactful and to respect their dignity.

Respecting the individual

We all have our own routines for personal care - particularly when we get up in the morning. It is important to try to encourage people with dementia to continue with these routines for as long as possible. If you feel that the person does require some assistance with washing and bathing, you must take their feelings into consideration.

Many people with dementia have a professional carer come into their home to help them with washing and dressing. This needs to be thoughtfully planned. For example, arranging carers of the same gender could make the daily routine less awkward and may also help take account of the person's need for privacy.

If the person with dementia is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), they may prefer someone that is familiar working with, or understands issues within, the LGBT community. Think about a person's culture: would they feel more comfortable having someone look after them from the same cultural background? This person-centred approach to caring is important and will help ensure that the person with dementia has their dignity respected.

You should also take the time to think about which routines work best, as well as the person's preferences. In this way you can help them carry on with things in a way that is as familiar and reassuring as possible.

You might also want to consider the following.

  • Where do they prefer to get undressed?
  • Do they prefer a bath or a shower?
  • What toiletries are they used to?
  • What dental care do they need?

Encouraging independence: tips for carers

People with dementia often find it hard to process a lot of information at once. If you are helping someone and they seem confused, it can help if you break the process down into small stages.

  • Involve the person in decisions around washing - for example, ask them if they want a bath or a shower, or which soap they want to use. Giving them a simple choice of two options can help.
  • Offer tactful reminders - for example, remind them which step comes next in their personal hygiene routine.
  • Offer practical help - for example, by handing the person the soap at the point when they would normally wash, or holding out a towel when it's time for them to dry themselves.
  • Give the person lots of encouragement and try not to dwell on things that do not go well.

Get more tips for daily living

Read more about how to support the day-to-day life of someone living with dementia.

Daily living
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