Alzheimer's and Bathing: Tips for Bathing and Personal Hygiene
As your loved one's Alzheimer's progresses, you may find that certain tasks become more challenging for them to accomplish. Bathing or showering with Alzheimer's is one area in which you may come up against resistance, anger, or hostility. There are ways to help you and your loved one accomplish the necessity of bathing and reduce the stress it can create.1,2
Why is bathing with Alzheimer's a struggle?
Proper cleanliness as an adult is a societal norm and expectation, a shift in resistance to bathing can feel confusing. You may find yourself getting frustrated and asking, "Why can't they just do it?" There can be a few things that cause agitation toward the task of bathing.
Maybe they feel embarrassed that they can no longer do this task themselves. They may feel a loss of control or independence at being forced to do something when they aren't ready. They may not understand what is happening or being asked of them. They could also be feeling cold or frightened at being exposed. All of these emotions can play into a hostile attitude toward getting clean.1,2
Getting to yes
The process of bathing a loved one with Alzheimer's will go smoothly if you can get your loved one to agree to the process willingly rather than by force.
Honor their preferences and try to maintain what they have always done. Did your mom use to bathe before bed? Do not ask her to bathe in the morning. Keep to the routine she preferred and was most comfortable with. Did your dad always take showers? Do not require him to now take a bath. Use a shower chair and keep the process familiar. Make the process fun and comfortable. Are there certain scented soaps or lotions your loved one likes? Do they like a particular kind of washcloth or sponge? Does certain music help them feel calmer and relaxed?
Make these things part of the process so that bathing is something they will enjoy rather than resist.1,2
Offer choices and clear communication
Whenever possible, offer your loved one choices so they feel they have control over the process.1,2
Some questions and options you can present include:
- "Today is bath day! Are you ready to do that now, or would you like to do it at another time?"
- "Which towels would you like to use, the blue or the white?"
- "What would you like to wear once we're done?"
- "Would you like me or [another trusted individual] to help you?"
Your loved one may prefer someone of the same sex to help bathe them. For example, a father may prefer his son or son-in-law assist him instead of his daughter.
Talk them through each step before engaging
In order to help your loved one feel as comfortable as possible, communicate each step clearly before engaging in the task.1-2
- "It is time for your bath! First, we are going to walk to the bathroom."
- "Now it is time to take off your clothes and put on your bathrobe. Can I help you unbutton your shirt? Now I am going to take off your socks and shoes."
- "I am running the water. I think this feels like a good temperature. Do you agree?" Allow them to feel the water and change it to be warmer or cooler, depending on their response.
- "Now I would like to help you into the tub. I am going to place a towel/washcloth over your lap once you are sitting."
- "Are you cold? Would you like a towel over your shoulders?"
- "I am putting soap on the washcloth. I am going to start by washing your back. I am done with your back now. Would you like to wash your arms, or would you like me to do that?" Keep naming the area and asking "me or you?" as you go.
- "Now it is time to wash your hair. I am going to rub in some shampoo. Could you lean your head back so we can rinse it out?"
- "All done! Can I help you stand up and get out?"
- "Can I help dry you off with the blue towel or do you want to start?"
- "Time to put on your bathrobe and go back to the bedroom to put on your clothes."
- "Great job! You look so nice and fresh!"
Keep your loved one safe
Safety when bathing someone with Alzheimer's is very important, especially to avoid a fall or accident. Never leave your loved one alone in the bath. Here are some things that may help keep your loved one safe and ease the process for you both:1,2
- Install bars and grips to help them get in and out of the tub.
- Invest in a shower chair.
- Have rubber grips on the bottom of the shower or tub.
- Use a handheld shower attachment to ease the process of washing and rinsing.
Other personal hygiene tips for Alzheimer's
Help maintain normalcy by encouraging and helping your loved one to do things that were always important to them.
If your mother always wore makeup, help her apply some or encourage her to put it on. If your dad was always clean-shaven, invest in an electric razor and help or encourage him to shave. Dressing can be challenging for your loved one. After having them choose what they want to wear, lay out clothes in the order they should be put on to help minimize confusion.1,2
Your loved one may need help remembering how to brush their teeth. Show them how, explaining step by step what to do. Brush your own teeth at the same time so they can watch. If a manual toothbrush is hard for them to use, consider investing in an electric toothbrush. Encourage them to do as much as they can for themselves!1,2
Looking for more Alzheimer's resources? Check out the Caregivers Resource Center.
Do you know the difference between Alzheimer's & Parkinson's disease-related dementia?