Dementia and Personal Hygiene: How to Keep Clean and Maintain Dignity

September 21, 2015

Many of us are familiar with the smell of poor personal hygiene. Lack of daily cleaning can really catch up to one quickly, leading to a urine odor or just a general body odor. None of us want to think of our loved one being in that position. So, how can you prevent it from happening? Personal hygiene can be a delicate topic since it has to do with privacy and can cause some embarrassment, but there are steps you can take to make discussing the issue a bit easier.

Daily hygiene is important. Younger person bushing older person's hair

Daily hygiene is important

Bathing

You may bathe every day, or several times a week, but your parents and grandparents may not have grown up doing so. They may have bathed once a week or less. Keeping this in mind will not only alleviate stress for you but also help to keep your loved one’s routine in place. Perhaps daily use of  wipes on private areas and underarms would be a good alternative to daily bathing.

Many senior ladies are used to having their hair washed and set every week at the salon. This can be an outing that they look forward to and can also help them to maintain good personal hygiene. Senior gentlemen may prefer to separate their bodily washing from their hair washing as well.

Many dementia patients have difficulty with their internal temperature. So, asking them to test them water before they get in the shower or tub may be a good idea. Temperatures that might have been fine previously may suddenly seem too hot or too cold.

Privacy is obviously an issue. Setting the mood to be as relaxing as possible can help. Turning the lights down, making sure the shades are down, and even covering mirrors may help patients to maintain a sense of privacy and dignity. Also, giving them as many choices as possible can be reassuring. Would they like to take a shower or a bath? Would they prefer morning or evening?

Shaving

Senior gentlemen with dementia still need to maintain the routine of shaving. However, if they shave with a traditional blade they may need to be supervised closely or you may need to do it for them. An electric razor is often a good alternative. If you are able to start this habit early on with them, it may make shaving a bit easier down the road. Routine is very important for dementia patients, so try to make this part of the daily routine.

Brushing Teeth

Those in the early stages of dementia may still be able to brush their own teeth, although they may need to be reminded. An electric toothbrush may make the task easier. If it’s not possible for your loved one to brush his or her own teeth, your dental hygienist will be able to show you how to help out. Again, try to keep it in the daily routine, twice a day if possible.

Dressing

Your loved one may seem particularly attached to a certain item of clothing, or perhaps he or she picks out clothes that are not appropriate for the weather. What can you do to make it so that getting dressed in the morning doesn’t stress you out the rest of the day? Try to give your loved one choices, but limited ones. Would he or she like blue pants or gray pants? You many find that buying more than one of a beloved item allows your loved one to continue wearing those favorite shirts or pants while you throw the dirty items in the laundry.

Buying comfortable clothes that are easy to put on can help as well. Slip-on shoes with good grip, pants that tie at the waist, and shirts that slip over the head may make dressing time easier for you and for those for whom you care.

With a little kindness and forethought, you’ll find that maintaining personal hygiene need not be an embarrassment for you or your loved one.

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