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Building Hand-Washing Habits for Those Living with Dementia

Something as simple as hand-washing can make a big difference when it comes to good health. It can be harder for people living with a form of dementia to remember to wash their hands, and to do so thoroughly. At The Moments of Lakeville, our staff use a variety of sensory stimulation and other techniques to reinforce this important health habit.

Whether you are caretaking or visiting a loved one, you can encourage good hand hygiene. Following are a few proven methods you can use with your loved one to encourage hand washing with less stress and better efficacy.


Create Opportunities to Practice Hand Washing

Most of us don’t get our hands very dirty during the day so the need to wash our hands isn’t as obvious. Look for ways to create a need to wash hands, for example:

  • Food preparation like kneading bread, rolling cookie dough or meatballs, or shucking corn 
  • Craft projects with paint or glue almost always need clean-up 
  • Getting hands in the dirt planting seeds or flowers

Role Modeling and Doing It Together

You may have been helping your loved one with hand washing already. Now is the time to work on improving their technique. Invite them to do it with you.

  • Verbalize turning on the water first. Let the water get warm or cool so it’s comfortable and even enjoyable. Then wet your hands up to the wrist.  
  • Lather up! It should be a visible lather. Any liquid or bar soap will do but why not use a favorite scented soap?  
  • You need friction. Demonstrate rubbing your hands all over, including between the fingers, over the wrists, the nails and fingertips. You could even describe it as a hand massage.


  • Encourage at least 20 seconds of washing by singing the chorus of a favorite song. Everyone can sing “Happy Birthday” two times through, but how about the chorus of some old familiar songs:
     – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” by Judy Garland
    – “Hey Good Lookin’,” by Hank Williams
    – “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” by the Andrew Sisters
    – “Stop! In the Name of Love,” by the Supremes
    – “Jolene,” by Dolly Parton
  • Now rinse and dry thoroughly.


Hand Sanitizer How-To’s

If hands are actually dirty, you will need soap and water. But an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is perfectly fine to use throughout the day, especially for blowing the nose, coughing or sneezing. For some people living with dementia, hand sanitizer can pose a danger because it is toxic if ingested.

At The Moments, we keep hand sanitizer at the reception desk and at the nursing stations. Staff can put it on their own hands and on the hands of a resident using the same methods.



Provide Visual Cues for Hand Washing

Many people grew up with hygiene routines. Even as their cognitive abilities fade, they may well remember mother’s admonition to “Wash your hands and face before you get in bed.”

Visible, eye-catching signage on the bathroom mirror, on the fridge or by the kitchen sink, can provide a reminder that reinforces hand-washing routines:

  • Before making or handling food
  • Before eating
  • After using the bathroom


Calm repetition is key to creating the positive associations that make hand-washing a habit. At The Moments Lakeville, we pride ourselves in our sanitation and commitment to cleanliness. We are the premier memory care community in Minneapolis area.   

The Moments of Lakeville is conducting informational video calls and virtual tours for new residential memory care residents.

Published On: April 21, 2020