We’re all aware of the increase in the numbers of people suffering with dementia in the UK, and with figures showing that they’ll be over 850,000 dementia sufferers living in the UK in 2015, it’s becoming increasingly more likely that we’ll end up caring for someone with this condition. If you’re a carer for a dementia sufferer, you’re likely to find that the demands placed on you change as their conditions worsens, until you’ll eventually have to assist with even the most basic of tasks, such as washing and personal care. So if you’re in the position of caring for someone with dementia, here’s a few practical tips for helping them to keep clean and looking their best.
Ensure that the room is warm, comfortable and safe. Check that the floor isn’t slippery, and if necessary put down non-slip mats and grab rails.
Be sensitive to their needs. Some dementia sufferers experience feelings of acute embarrassment or self-consciousness, especially if they have to undress in front of strangers. If this is the case, don’t undress them completely; only expose the part of the body that needs washing, leaving the other areas covered.
Often dementia sufferers can develop a fear of water, especially of powerful overhead showers. Try using a hand held showerhead to allow them to see where the water is coming from, rather than standing them under a shower. This will give them an element of visual control over the source of the water.
Don’t fill the bath too full. Often having the bath too full can create a feeling of anxiety in dementia sufferers, so by keeping the bath water as shallow as you can, you’re more likely to reassure them that they’re safe. Consider adding a bath seat, as this can also help with additional support during bath time.
Consider installing a half height, bi-fold shower door to the shower or bath. This will enable you to assist during a shower and alleviate the feeling of anxiety that dementia sufferers often sense when left alone. Grab rails can also be helpful too, as can level entry showers and walk-in baths.
Offer help with applying personal products such as moisturisers and deodorants. Older people especially, will suffer from dry skin, so try and keep them as comfortable as possible by regular applications of moisturising lotions.
Encourage independence when dressing. Offer a selection of clothes for them to choose from and then lay them out in order, e.g. underwear first. Try to choose garments which are easy to put on, without any awkward fastenings.
It’s better to dress in several layers of thin garments rather than thick clothing. This makes it much easier to add or take off layers if they get too warm or too cold.
Don’t forget that the person you are caring for may no longer be able to let you know if they are too hot or too cold, so monitor them for signs of discomfort throughout the day.
Ensure that they change clothes regularly. While they may have a favourite outfit, it’s important that their clothes are rotated, so that they can be laundered.
Make getting dressed a positive experience. Helping a person to achieve a particular look can be an important way to help dementia sufferers to maintain their confidence.
Encourage them to take pride in their appearance and give regular compliments.
For more information and advice on all aspects of caring for someone with dementia, check out the Dementia UK website. They cover everything from personal care to health, nutrition and communication. Also the NHS.co.uk has a section on dementia help and support.