Personal care and hygiene

My husband used to be so smartly dressed and take detailed care of his appearance and personal care. Now he doesn’t care any more and won’t let me help him. At the moment he has between three and four layers of clothes on and won’t change into his night clothes. He last showered three months ago. What can I do? I am so worried, as he smells and his skin may be sore?

As the condition progresses it can be very difficult to reason with the person diagnosed with dementia about the need to wash, change clothes or self care. If you see this from the perspective of the person living with dementia, when this is pointed out, it can feel like an attack or a judgement on their very personal space, and can lead to arguments and the person becoming even more resistant to help.

Try not to ask you husband questions about his personal care. Instead write down your routine and look to see if you can ask him for help during your personal care regime. For example, if you put on make up or do your hair in the morning, ask him if he will shower whilst you are doing this so you can chat to him. Or even if you don’t need help, ask him for help with buttons, turning the shower on, or choosing shower gel. Ask him what you should wear and then reciprocate with him (keep choices to two).

If this just doesn’t work then it may be time for some help. Sometimes a professional carer coming in can be more acceptable for the person living with dementia than a family member helping with personal care. This is because most of us are very private people and can be embarrassed and upset having a family member doing these ‘tasks’ for us.

A regular trip to the hairdressers/barbers may also help. Sometimes the person just needs a prompt like clean clothes laid out. If this works, do ensure you remove the dirty ones as soon as you can.

Using statements that are very obvious for example, ‘gosh I am sticky I am going to shower’, or ‘this shirt needs a wash I am going to change’ can also help. If at all possible, try to establish a routine regarding personal hygiene e.g. a morning (or evening) bath or shower with fresh clothes laid out and worn clothing removed for washing.