Why Are People With Alzheimer's Resistant to Bathing?

As Alzheimer's or dementia progress, people with these conditions may need help with personal hygiene. One task they may need help with is bathing. But people with Alzheimer's can often be resistant to these tasks. This resistance can cause problems for caregivers.1

With bathing, this resistance can cause a safety concern. The risk of falling or accidents increases around showers or baths. The safety concerns can also increase if the person with Alzheimer's becomes violent.1,2

It may seem strange to encounter such resistance around what seems like a simple task. However, there are explanations for why people with Alzheimer's may not want to bathe.1,2

What factors can make people resistant to bathing?

Everyone's experience with Alzheimer's is different. So, it is hard to know exactly why some people may not want to bathe. Some potential reasons include:1-5

  • Fear of water
  • Fear of falling
  • Feeling cold, hot, or uncomfortable
  • Feeling embarrassed or resistant to loss of control
  • Not understanding the need for a bath

How does fear impact resistance to bathing?

Having Alzheimer's or dementia can increase the amount of fear that people feel. Alzheimer's can make it more likely for someone to develop aquaphobia, or a fear of water. They also may not be able to gauge the depth of the water, which can increase this fear.3,4

For some people, this fear can be related to past trauma. For example, if they had a past scary experience with water. This can make them resist water in the future. Other people may associate the feeling of water going over their head with drowning. Regardless of the cause, this fear can make people very resistant to bathing.3,4

People with Alzheimer's can also develop a fear of falling. The moving, slippery surfaces and stepping involved in a bath or shower can make people feel unstable. This can trigger their fear and make them resistant to the process.3-5

How does loss of independence or understanding impact resistance to bathing?

It can be difficult to explain to people with Alzheimer's that they need to bathe. By the time their disease has progressed to the point that they fight bathing, it may be too late to effectively reason with them. Some people may just resist bathing because they do not understand the point of it.1,3

People with Alzheimer's may also resist the embarrassment that comes with needing help to bathe. This can also cause a feeling of lost independence. They may not want to be naked and exposed in front of a caregiver. These negative feelings can make them resist the bathing process.1,2

Alzheimer's can also impact people's sense for temperature. This means water that feels fine to us, may feel too hot or cold to them. This can contribute to bathing being an awkward, unenjoyable, or even painful process.4

How to manage resistance to bathing

If someone with Alzheimer's does not want to take a bath, try being understanding. As a caregiver, there are things you can try. Try making the bathroom a peaceful and familiar place. Use gentle and familiar bath products that they once used. Keep a regular bath schedule. And try your best to involve your loved one in making decisions.2,4

If you continue to have challenges, talk with healthcare professionals on how to handle bathing difficulties. They can provide some tips and strategies that may help.

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