Most adults like to wash on their own when no-one is around to watch them. When looking after people with dementia, you need to remember this and only help as much as you have to. It is important to respect their need to be on their own and let them wash themselves for as long as they possibly can.

Try to bath or wash people at the same times that they usually did it themselves. If they bathed at 5pm, try to bath them at the same time. Also, find out what they usually put on after bathing, as some people dress in their pyjamas even though it is still early.

As the disease gets worse, some people need to be reminded to bath or wash. At times you might also find that some refuse to bath or wash even though they were once very clean people. When this happens, you will need to try very hard to talk them into bathing/showering, or standing at the basin to wash.

Reasons a person may not want to bath or wash

  • Scared of falling
  • Scared of being left alone in the bathroom.
  • If showering, the spray might be too hard on the person’s skin.
  • The person might feel ashamed if s/he was incontinent and does not want you to see the mess.
  • Does not want you to bath her/him.
  • The room is too cold
  • The room is too dark
  • Does not like to be seen without clothes on
  • Does not like showering
  • Does not like bathing
  • The water in the bath feels too deep
  • Lying in the bath hurts (especially if the person is thin)
  • Likes to undress in the bedroom, not in the bathroom.

Preventing accidents in the bathroom

  • Make sure that the floor is dry
  • Make sure that the room is warm before s/he gets undressed
  • Make sure that the temperature of the water is not too hot
  • When filling a bath, always run the cold water first in case the person climbs into the bath when you’re out the room
  • Make sure that the person cannot lock the bathroom door from the inside. S/he may have an accident, or forget how to unlock the door and you will not be able to get in to help
  • Always let the person stand on a rubber mat so that s/he does not slip
  • If you do not have a rubber mat, put a coloured towel at the bottom of the bath to stop the person from slipping. It will also help her/him to see the bottom of a white bath
  • Putting a stool (not wooden) in the bath or shower for the person to sit on will make that person feel safer
  • Never leave a confused person alone in the bathroom
  • Rails attached to the wall next to the bath or in the shower that s/he can hold onto will help to stop the person from falling. If a rail is put against the walls next to the toilet, the person can use the rail to pull her/himself up from the toilet seat.

Tips for bathing and washing

  • Try to make bath time a nice time to spend together
  • Talk to the person and say what you are doing as you bath her/him
  • Do not be bossy and order the person to bath. Talk about how nice it will feel to be clean and look nice for visitors or the family, or for going out
  • Stay calm and try to get her/him to wash, without fighting. If the person does not want to bath just then, leave it for a while and try again later
  • Make sure everything is ready before you start bathing the person and help her/him put out the clothes to wear after the bath
  • If s/he is very confused, it might be better to get everything ready for the bath and then say that you will help her/him to start getting undressed
  • People who do not like being undressed can be washed in their underwear and then dried and dressed with a towel wrapped around them
  • Check the skin for any sores, marks or bruises and report it to the nurse or someone in the family
  • Use soap that does not smell too strong or it will make the skin dry. Make sure that all the soap is rinsed off. Never put bath oil in the bath water because it will make the bath slippery and the person will fall
  • If you shower the person, start at her/his feet and then go upwards
  • Do not wash the person’s hair when s/he is bathing or showering
  • Give her/him the facecloth and soap. Let the person do as much as possible, only helping when help is needed
  • Make sure that the hands and face are washed, under the arms, between the legs and, for a woman, under the breasts
  • Make sure that the person is dried properly, especially under the arms, between the legs and, for a woman, under the breasts, or sores will develop
  • If the skin is dry, put on a cream. If the person doesn’t want a particular cream, “Aqueous cream” is the best