Because bathing is an intimate and physical experience, an individual with dementia may perceive bathing assistance as intrusive. Here are a few tips from the Alzheimer's Association for making the experience as calm and productive as possible:
Before You Begin
Prepare the bathroom in advance:
- Gather supplies. Make sure large towels (that you can completely wrap around your loved one for privacy and warmth), shampoo and soap are ready.
- Make the room comfortable. Pad any uncomfortable surfaces with towels (like a shower seat). Try to ensure the room is a comfortable temperature.
- Place any needed items within reach. Consider using travel-sized plastic containers of shampoo and soap and having a washcloth ready.
- Monitor water temperature. Always check the water temperature, even if the your loved one draws their own bath.
Making the Bathroom Safe
You want the bathroom as safe and comfortable as possible. Consider doing the following:
- Installing grab bars
- Placing non-skid mats on floors
- Using a tub bench or bath chair that can be adjusted to different heights
Also, take care to never leave your loved one alone in the bathroom and try to keep sharp objects out of reach.
Helping Your Loved One Feel in Control
- Give them choices. Ask things like: "Would you like to take a bath or a shower?"
- Be sure they have a role. For example, have them hold a washcloth.
- Be aware that they may perceive bathing to be threatening. Have activities ready in case they become agitated. You could play soothing music, for example. it may be necessary to distract your loved one if they are agitated and try again later.
- Always protect dignity and privacy. Try to help your loved one feel less vulnerable by covering them with a blanket or towel while undressing and letting them hold a towel around themselves while entering or exiting the tub.
- Consider having a familiar person of the same sex help, if that is more comfortable. Also consider covering or removing the mirrors if a reflection leads your loved one to believe there is a stranger in the room.
Adapting the Bathing Process
- Set a regular time for bathing. Try to determine what time of day is best for your loved one and then set a routine.
- Be gentle. Their skin may be very sensitive, so avoid scrubbing. Also, check the spray on the shower head to make sure the water pressure is comfortable.
- Coach them through each step. For example: "Here is the soap, please wash your arm."
- Use a tub bench or bath chair. Having your loved one sit while showering may be easier and safer. A chair that can be adjusted to different heights is ideal.
- Sponge bathe as an alternative. To decrease the frequency of baths, sponge baths with a washcloth can be effective. Check out this article to learn more about bed baths.
- Check for rashes and sores.
- Seat your loved one while drying off skin and putting on fresh clothes.
- Be gentle, pat skin dry instead of rubbing and apply lotion to keep skin soft.
- Consider using cornstarch or talcum powder under the breasts and in the folds of skin.
Source: “Bathing.” Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia, www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/daily-care/bathing.