Getting a loved one with later stages of dementia into the shower is like setting them up for torture. They can put up quite a fight over things we commonly do. We need a hefty dose of patience and compassion to move our loved one through the process.
Bathing is a necessary, albeit challenging, component of Alzheimer’s care. Not only do the people around us appreciate cleanliness, bathing aides in the prevention of rashes, skin disease, and urinary tract infections. We can reduce frequency to three times a week because skin tends to thin with age and illness. However, hands, face, and private parts should be kept clean throughout each day.
The reasons people with Alzheimer’s detest bathing are many.
They no longer understand why they need to bathe.
The concept of time is lost, so it can feel as if they just took a bath.
The cleansing process is confusing and forgotten.
People with dementia cannot regulate body temperate very well, which makes them feel cold.
The sensation of the water on their body is uncomfortable.
And they may be embarrassed about being naked and needing assistance.
Reasoning with someone with Alzheimer’s is not possible. An argument is sure to develop if we try to explain why a bath is necessary. But there are a few things that can be done to make it a little easier and safer for both the caregiver and bather.
If your loved one is emphatically resisting stepping into the shower, let it go for an hour or so. Our loved one may be more agreeable if we try again at a later time.
Engage them in a story, perhaps with a topic they still like to talk about or sing a song while you undress them and escort them into the shower.
Offer a treat, such as potato chips, a cookie, or ice cream as a reward once the shower is over.
Provide a safe shower with a hand-held shower head, safety bars, non-slip flooring, and a seat or bench.
Ensure that the room and the water temperature is comfortable.
Offer a washcloth, toy, or fidget item for them to hold.
Speak softly, respectfully, and directly to help move things along.
My recommendation for everything we do while caring for our loved one is to consider health and safety for both our loved one and ourselves. When that health or safety is compromised for either of us, it’s time to think about additional or different support. I know the challenges and 24/7 responsibilities you’re experiencing. I’ve been through it myself, and I hold you close in prayer.