People with Dementia Are Often Reluctant Bathers

Caregiver helps a senior client put on a sweater

People with dementia often develop anxiety towards normal daily activities, especially bathing, and this anxiety spills over to family members assisting them.

We have learned to search for the reasons a patient does not want to bathe. Common problems include visual impairment, especially depth perception; modesty; fear of water; poor circulation and thermoregulation; and loss of control.

If the client is visually impaired, we might place a colorful hand towel on the shower chair for a visual cue for where to sit, and guide the client to safely sit.

If a client is modest, we might encourage them to wear a robe until they are seated, close the shower curtain and hand the robe out. Then we can hand a hand towel in for them to place across their laps before we assist.

If a client is afraid of drowning, we can skip using the shower nozzle. Instead, we can run a light flow of warm water through the faucet, enough to keep the room warm and to fill plastic cups we use for rinsing.

To make a cold client more comfortable, we can heat up the bathroom and the water, and place clothes in the dryer to warm up. We might set a timer for 5 minutes and promise the client we will make this quick so they can get warm again. We close the door to reduce draft. Once the client is done, we start drying them off while they are still in the warmth. Once they are safely seated and continuing to dry themselves off we can run to get the warm clothes. Being dressed in warm clothes after a shower is heavenly.

If the client’s issue is loss of autonomy, offering choice may be the key to successful bathing.

For example, we might offer a shower, bed bath, or sponge bath. We might wash a body part at a time while most of the client is snuggled under a robe or blanket. We might offer to wash their hair in the sink or in an inflatable bath basin. If the patient has very short hair, we might place a pea-sized drop of shampoo on a washcloth

We might offer a “bribe” of a favorite activity. We might play happy music like “Splish Splash” by Bobby Darin – there’s a party going on!

Sometimes stroking the client’s ego is helpful. We can promise to curl their hair, decorate it with ribbons and to paint their nails.

If the dementia is advanced, sometimes providing a baby doll for the client to bathe while the caregiver is bathing the client helps.

We always finish by complimenting the client on looking good and smelling great!

Advantage Home Care offers specialized dementia care in Winchester and surrounding areas for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Our highly-trained care team helps promote safety and independence, while ensuring dignity in all client interactions. Learn more about how we have been helping families throughout Douglas County since 2007 by contacting us at 541-440-0933.