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Helping someone to wash

If you’re caring for someone with a terminal illness, they need to wash regularly, to prevent infections. Regular washing also improves comfort, morale and dignity.  

Your relative or friend might need your help with washing, especially if they can’t get out of bed. If they’re still able to move, support is available to them to help them with bathing and showering. Speak to your Marie Curie Nurse or district nurse who will be able to advise you. Always encourage your friend or relative to do as much for themselves as they can.

Tips and suggestions

  • Be gentle.
  • Make sure your relative or friend is comfortable.
  • Use two separate flannels, one for the face and top half of the body and one for the bottom half.
  • Only expose the parts of their body that are being washed. This will help your relative or friend to keep warm and maintain their dignity.
  • Change the water in the bowl several times during the wash.
  • Your relative or friend may be able to wash their own face. Using a cream cleanser for the face can be more comfortable, as soap can dry the skin.
  • Rinse off soap completely, as it can make the skin very dry if left on.
  • Dry your relative or friend’s skin gently yet thoroughly after washing.
  • Moisturising cream to dry areas like elbows and soles of the feet.
  • If you, or the person you’re caring for, don’t have the energy for a full wash, a good occasional alternative is to use wet wipes and dry shampoo.

Relieving pressure

If your relative or friend isn’t able to get out of bed, the parts of their body that carry most weight may become sore or numb. If pressure isn’t relieved the skin can break down, causing pressure ulcers (bed sores). To stop this happening, make sure they change position regularly and are as comfortable as possible.

Washing is a good way to check your relative or friend’s skin for early signs of redness, which can lead to pressure sores.

External websites

NHS Choices   - hygiene

This page is for general information only. It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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