Ask Sheila - Archive England

Sheila Scott OBE has now retired and therefore is no longer available to answer your social care questions. However, you might still find the answer you’ve been searching for down below.

31st January 2017

Is hair washing abuse?

Hi, I work in a care home and I've been told that washing a resident's hair can be classed as abuse. The lady in question is unable to give permission as she is unable to talk. She has not had her hair washed in months. Is this true, is hair washing abuse?

Many thanks.


Dear Tessa,


I wonder who told you that washing someone's hair is abuse.


As this lady is unable to talk, does that mean that she lacks capacity to make a decision?


I suspect that is the situation.


Scenario 1:  If she has capacity, then she can make the decision herself.


Scenario 2:  If she doesn't have capacity, then how do you know that she won't have her hair washed?


It is not unusual for people with dementia to be frightened of being showered or having their hair washed. This needs to be handled sensitively.


Does she resist if you try to wash her hair?


If she does, then that is a clear indication that she doesn't want to have her hair washed.


If that is not the case, then a Mental Capacity Act assessment and Best Interests decision needs to be made. The decision should be made in conjunction with a family member and other professionals if that seems appropriate.


It would be abuse in my opinion to force someone to have their hair washed if they are clearly resistant and frightened.


Two other points that I would like to make; if there is a medical reason why the hair and scalp should be washed then decisions would need to be made with the medical team....and finally, there are many people around the world who never wash their hair, a google search will provide you with more details on this.


Best wishes.



*All information is correct at the time of publishing.

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