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Helping mom with personal hygiene


Question: My mother has Alzheimer’s and is in an assisted living facility. She does not keep herself clean. She wears the same clothes sometimes two weeks at a time. When we ask/remind her to take a shower she always says she took one last night. We realize she thinks she did because she doesn't remember that she didn't. When we ask her to change her clothes she gets very indignant and says they are clean. She just put them on this morning. The staff facility have tried to help and she gets very mean with them and tells them to leave her alone. Do you have any suggestions for us? She would be appalled if she knew how she was acting.

Dr. Amy: It is very common for people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia to lose interest in or forget about personal hygiene. Someone who always bathed regularly and always cared about their appearance can begin to neglect daily routines like bathing and changing. While this is not unusual, I am sure you find it upsetting.

Assisted living facilities vary widely in the services they provide. Clearly, your mom needs more help than she is now receiving. Someone who knows how to support people with Alzheimer’s needs to help her with dressing, laundry, and bathing. I encourage you to talk with the staff so you understand more fully what they are and are not able to do to help your mom. If they are not able to support her properly, you will need to find another source of support. A home care provider can help develop the right strategy, and so can a geriatric care manager.

There are techniques for dealing with challenging behaviors, and there are ways to make bathing pleasant and comfortable. Home Instead has developed a series of short videos and other resources that I think you may find useful. You can check these out at: Just click on the Alzheimer's disease tab at the top of the page. They have also developed Check out the Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia Guide and in particular number 5, which deals with “How can I Turn a NO into a YES?”  I am sure you are finding all of this very difficult. I send you strength and patience. Good luck!


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