Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease

Helping Those with Dementia to Remember to Wash Hands and Wear Masks

BY NICOLE OOI

12 May 2020  |   4 min read

Are you having a tough time getting your loved ones with dementia to practise good personal hygiene during this period? The COVID-19 situation can be confusing for them. It may be difficult for them to remember to wear a mask or wash their hands, and they might not understand the importance of doing so.

Here are some tips for communicating with your loved one on this topic.

1. Talk to them slowly at eye level

When speaking with loved ones about washing their hands or wearing a mask, don’t rush through the explanation. Speak clearly and simply, and avoid overwhelming them with excessive information. Provide your loved ones with some time to respond and understand what you are saying. Take the time to listen to any concerns or feelings your loved one may express, and address these feelings.

2. Give visual cues

When assisting loved ones with their mask or helping to wash their hands, you can provide visual cues. Point at the soap or mask to explain what you are going to do before you begin. You can demonstrate the proper hand-washing steps, or use videos as a demonstration. You can also use visual cues to explain the COVID-19 situation and the importance of these actions.

For a demonstration of the proper hand-washing technique, refer to the “Hand hygiene with soap and water” video by Singapore General Hospital: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CcGLoYrIPU

For posters and other resources related to the virus, please see https://www.gov.sg/article/covid-19-resources

3. Provide constant reminders

To ensure that your loved ones maintain proper hand hygiene, remind them to wash their hands regularly. Ensure that they wash their hands before meals, after going to the toilet, and after coughing or blowing their nose. You can place signs or pictures in the toilet as visual reminders to wash their hands.

4. Provide love and comfort

Never underestimate the power of a loving touch. In these trying times, you should provide more support and reassurances to your loved ones. If they are unwilling to wash their hands, continue to remind them by using positive and soothing words.

You can encourage them by joining in the hand-washing activity. Alternatively, hand washing can be turned into a light massage using soap and water! You can also provide comfort by applying moisturiser for your loved ones after hand washing, to prevent their skin from becoming too dry.

Take the time to listen to any concerns or feelings your loved one may express, and address these feelings.

5. Use hand sanitiser

If a sink is not readily accessible, or if your loved one is not keen to wash his or her hands with water and soap, you can use hand sanitiser as an alternative. Remember to keep your home disinfected by wiping commonly used surfaces with a clean cloth and household cleaning spray or disinfectant.

For more information on how to communicate with your loved one with dementia, please see Book 3 of the Living with Dementia Resource Kit for Caregivers.

The contributor is an Executive at the Agency for Integrated Care.