Schizophrenia and Hygiene

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If your loved one has schizophrenia, you know the illness can have a dramatic impact on his or her thoughts, emotions and actions. One example: Schizophrenia can change the way people care for themselves. Unfortunately, poor hygiene is common among people with the disease, but there are things you can do to help.

Apathy and Disorganization

Poor personal hygiene, such as failing to regularly wash, use deodorant, change clothes, and brush teeth, can be one of the first signs a person has a mental illness. This deterioration can stem from a general apathy or lack of motivation—symptoms of the illness. Your loved one may also ignore these personal tasks because he or she is consumed by intense symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions.

While your loved one is learning to get the disease under control, it can be difficult to change this behavior. However, once a treatment plan begins to work and symptoms become less intense, you can help your loved one relearn good hygiene. One way is to encourage him or her to attend social-skills groups or cognitive behavioral therapy, which can teach ways to cope with symptoms of the illness and live a more productive life. 

In addition to apathy, many people with schizophrenia tend to be disorganized. To overcome this trait and establish positive hygiene habits, try a few simple steps. Have your loved one make a checklist of daily tasks, such as brushing teeth and getting dressed. Then, help them check off each task when completed. Aim to accomplish tasks at the same time each day. This will help establish a routine and build confidence in your loved one that he or she is on top of their care.

When Medication Impacts Hygiene

Antipsychotic medication may help your loved one control the symptoms of schizophrenia. But it’s important to know that it can sometimes make personal hygiene more difficult.

Poor oral health. Although studies show that less than half of people with schizophrenia visit the dentist regularly, medication can also contribute to poor oral health. That’s because some antipsychotic drugs cause dry mouth. Saliva lubricates, cleans and protects the teeth. Without enough saliva, a person is more likely to have problems such as cavities, gum disease, and bad breath

In addition to making sure your loved one goes to the dentist regularly, encourage him or her to drink a lot of water and use sugarless candy or gum. These steps help combat dry mouth and improve dental hygiene.

Incontinence. Some antipsychotic drugs increase the risk for incontinence, especially in older people. If your loved one has difficulty making it to the bathroom without an accident, talk with his or her doctor. It may be possible to change medications or dosage. There are also many treatment options that can help reduce and potentially eliminate this unwanted drug side effect. These may include Kegel exercises, biofeedback, scheduled voiding, positive reinforcement, and sometimes additional medication.

You may not be able to get your loved one’s personal hygiene back on track all at once, but you can be a positive influence in helping him or her make these changes. Not only does good hygiene improve the ability to develop or maintain social relationships and get back to a productive life, it can help build self-esteem.

Key Takeaways

  • Poor personal hygiene stemming from apathy can be one of the first signs a person has a mental illness.

  • Once a person’s treatment is under way, he or she can relearn good hygiene. Social-skills groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, and checklists can all help. 

  • Antipsychotic medication causes dry mouth, which can contribute to poor oral health. Without enough saliva, a person is more likely to have problems such as cavities and bad breath.   

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Apr 24

  1. Schizophrenia, Mental Health America.

  2. Healthy Living: Organising Your Time, Living with Schizophrenia.

  3. Schizophrenia, National Alliance on Mental Illness.

  4. Warning Signs of Mental Illness, American Psychiatry Association.

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