If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you know bath time can be a real battle. Your loved one or resident may say “I just had a bath!” or “Get away from me!” Sometimes, the individual can even become aggressive.
Why do people with dementia struggle so much with bath time?
First, people with dementia often don’t understand the “why” of bathing. They simply don’t recognize the need anymore.
In addition, bathing involves many small steps (going to the bathroom, getting undressed, getting in the tub, etc, etc.) Those with dementia can’t sequence the actions.
Finally, bathing is physically invasive. It involves taking off clothes, adjusting to changes in water and air temperature, getting into a tub or shower and having other people touch them and invade their space. Those with dementia can still feel very vulnerable, and bathing involves a total loss of privacy.
So what can you do to make bath time a little easier? The following are some tips to try.
Before you take on the bath, address other comfort needs. Is the setting too noisy? Do they have to go to the bathroom? Are they tired, hungry or thirsty? If they are already experiencing distress, it’s not a good time for a bath.
Is there a part of the bathing routine that this person used to enjoy? A certain scent? Shower vs bath? Warm towels? Big bathrobe? If so, work those into the routine.
Is there a part of the bathing routine that this person especially hates? Try to change that part. For example, if they hate getting their head wet, try using a dry shampoo.
If they say, “I don’t need a bath,” don’t argue or try to convince.
Go step by step. It may help if you don’t announce that it’s time for their bath. Instead say, “We are going to the bathroom. Now, let’s get your shirt off. Let me help you sit down on this shower chair. Can I wash your hands with this warm cloth?”
Move slowly. Speak in short sentences. Communicate warmth and respect. Ask permission to touch them, or at least give them notice.
Respect and encourage their autonomy. Let them make simple choices. Give them a washcloth. Let them do as much as they can. Sometimes they can complete a task if you start it for them.
Consider their wish for autonomy when choosing type of clothing. They may be able to dress themselves if they have tube socks, slide in shoes, no button-shirts, and elastic waist pants. If they can do it by themselves, let them. If they just need a little help, give a little help. When you see the first signs of frustration, move in to help.
Be flexible! Do they really need baths as frequently as you think?
Remember, the goal is to get them clean and feeling refreshed.