How to Bathe Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

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Bathing can become extremely difficult for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and yet since bathing is so private, they may refuse assistance from caregivers. They might feel embarrassed or angry they cannot care for themselves. They might respond negatively to certain water temperatures and pressures, or might not even remember what bathing is—and certainly will find the steps required challenging, just as they do with dressing and other once normal daily routines. Here are some strategies caregivers can use to make bathing easier for both their loved ones and themselves.

Before bathing someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia

Try to follow a routine by bathing at the same time each day, keeping track of when the person is most calm. Before the bath begins, prepare the room completely. Make sure all towels, soap, shampoo, and other materials are ready-to-go. You can help the person feel in control by asking them questions such as “Do you want to take a bath or a shower?” or “Do you want to bathe now or in 20 minutes?” Make sure the room is warm and well-lit, and play soothing music if that helps the person relax. Once the bath is prepared and the water is the right temperature, invite the person in by stating it matter-of-factly: “It’s time to bathe now.” If they refuse, avoid getting frustrated and instead try again later. You may need to invest in a tub transfer bench to make it easier to enter and exit the tub.

Strategies for bathing someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia

Help the person feel as in-control and comfortable as possible throughout the bath. Provide encouraging statements and praise throughout the process by saying things such as “This water feels so nice!” or compliment the person on their appearance and scent. Be gentle and respectful, informing them what you’re doing step-by-step or giving them careful, basic instructions on how to cleanse themselves, such as “Let’s rinse off your arm now.” Having the person hold the shampoo or washcloth can help them feel more involved, too. Additionally, using a bath blanket to cover the person as much as possible can make he or she feel less vulnerable. It’s important not to forget to bathe hard-to-reach areas, even if the person is embarrassed. If the person becomes irritated or upset at any point throughout the process, distract them by talking or singing. Even offering them a favorite treat can help.

After bathing

To reduce fear of falling or the discomfort of after-bathing chills, dry the person off as much as possible while they’re still sitting in the bath as the water drains. Gently pat the person with a towel to avoid rash or infection, ensuring that he or she is completely dry, even between folds of skin. Make sure the person is seated during the drying process and while putting on new clothes. Apply lotion to keep skin soft, and use protective ointments if the person is incontinent.

Bathing can become a battle between caregivers and their loved ones. If personal hygiene is particularly difficult, don’t feel the need to bathe your loved one every single day—two or three times a week, in combination with daily sponge bathes to clean face, underarms, hands, feet, and genitals, is sufficient. If the person absolutely refuses to bathe, seek professional help from a third party or talk to your loved one’s doctor about medications that address resistance to care.

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