With the world on high alert right now over the Coronavirus, particularly as it relates to the elderly population, it is important that we all are washing our hands.

This especially applies to those with dementia symptoms who need to maintain proper hygiene with the help of caregivers and have lost necessary function.

Because some people living with Alzheimer’s, or any cause of dementia symptoms may have a sensitivity to water, along with the challenges they often experience processing why they need to take additional extra precautions, here are some tips to help caregivers and family members keep those they are caring for free from infection:

  • While the CDC recommends that persons wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing, it may be difficult to achieve this with a person living with dementia. Caregivers may be able to encourage more frequent and/or longer hand washing by singing two choruses of “Happy Birthday.”
  • Use a soothing tone to encourage washing and understand that you may need to explain what to do slowly and step by step. Some people with dementia are no longer able to sequence (i.e., they can’t anticipate what step is coming next.). You may want to say, “First, let’s wet our hands under the water.” When that is done, “Then we will use the soap dispenser to squeeze out some soap into your hands.” Then, “Rub your hands together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands…. Lather between your fingers…. Lather under your nails.”
  • Consider using a fragranced soap, such as lavender to improve the sensory experience for your person. Keep in mind it is all about how you make them feel in the moment. Use positive action statements such as, “You are so good at keeping your hands clean,” “Thank you for helping us all to stay healthy.”) to gently guide them to a more cooperative and trusting frame of mind. Soap dispensers may be easier and safer to use than bars of soap for a person with dementia symptoms, but use whichever your person prefers. Keep bars of soap free of water, so they can dry between washings. If the soap is wet, simply rinse it off before lathering.
  • Use your own hands to model what needs to be done.
  • Make sure the room temperature is comfortable when washing.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, according to the CDC.
  • Make supplies easy to access, such as tissues, wipes and hand sanitizers, near the locations where your person spends most of their time
  • Use hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes for fast fixes around the community. Keep wipes handy if your only opportunity is to do a fast hand wipe down rather than a long hand washing due to care resistance. Make hand washing and massage a regular activity throughout the day.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Extra rest throughout the day is also so important, for the person you are caring for as well as for you, the caregiver.

Stay safe out there, and please contact me if you need assistance with this.

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