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How Can I Reduce the Stress We Go Through Every Time We Have to Take My Mom to Bathe?

9 tips from Home Helpers Caregivers in Enfield (North Central CT) and East Longmeadow (Western MA) to help Family Caregivers to bathe Alzheimer's Care loved ones

Peter DiMariaArticle by Home Helpers Home Care owner Peter DiMaria*, originally published in the Enfield Press and Longmeadow News, on 2/16/17.

It’s one of the well-documented issues with Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients. They refuse to bathe, turning shower or bath time into a battle with disagreement, resistance and, many times, aggressive behavior.

A few factors may cause it. One could be the memory loss, which makes them unable to keep track of when did they last bathe. It becomes hard to establish a routine of bathing every day or as frequently as possible.

Another reason, also related to the memory loss and regression caused by Alzheimer’s, is the confusion patients often feel, about the steps involved and the sequence to be followed.

Finally, when Alzheimer’s and dementia patients show behaviors like defensiveness or anxiety related to bathing, they could be feeling juvenile or embarrassed of having to be remembered for something they used to do autonomously.

Here are some tips to help you get bathing accomplished with Alzheimer's Care and Dementia Care patients with as little stress as possible.

Remember, each person is different, so you might have to change this approach a little, to adapt to what your mom would like.

  1. Try to have a consistent routine. Make it always at the same time, preferably a time of the day when mom feels more comfortable doing it. Try different times to find out which one works best. Usually, Alzheimer’s get restless in the evening, at sunset, so avoid those hours. In the morning they tend to feel cold, after leaving the warm bed. For these reasons, many patients tend to enjoy more when the bath is the middle of the day.

  1. Avoid negative remarks and criticism. Like reminding how long it's been since the last cleanup or asking questions like “did you shower?” or “would you like to bathe now?”. Instead of arguing, proceed with bath preparations.
  2. Get everything ready beforehand, to avoid distractions. Because the memory span is too short, mom could change her mind while you are involved in preparations at the same time you are trying to make her feel comfortable with the situation.
  3. If the words bath or shower are the cause of immediate concern, try to use language that she would like. Make it special. Say, for example. “It’s time to go to your spa. You are going to love it!” You may also try to lead the way to the bathroom but without talking about a bath.
  4. Consider reducing the number of days she gets a complete bath or shower. A sponge bath in bed provides a good clean up and delays the need of the full cleanup. Think of a twice a week routine, maybe even once a week.
  5. One of the reasons Alzheimer’s patients dislike bathing is that they feel uncomfortable and cold. Some things you can do to remediate that are to increase the temperature in the bathroom to near 80 degrees. It may feel too hot for you, but not for her. Also, cover her with a blanket as much as possible. If you are washing her legs, cover the upper body. If you are washing her hair, try to cover everything. It will reduce the strangeness she feels.
  1. Replace your traditional shower douche by a spray shower. It will help you to wash one part of the body after the other. Reduce the strength of the spray. If it is too strong, it could feel it as if it is painful.
  2. Put non-flammable candles throughout the bathroom, making it less bright and more inviting.
  3. Always smile, talk gently and move slowly. As dementia progresses, non-verbal cues become more important. Explain to mom, step by step, what you are doing, to reduce anxiety. When undressing her, try to get her to help as much as possible. During the shower, get her to hold the shower spray when washing her genitals or other parts of the body. Use very gentle massage like motions instead of scrubbing her skin. 
  4. As you are aware, some days are more difficult than others, with an Alzheimer’s patient. They have their good and bad moments. IF you are trying everything you can, but still are not able to lure her into a bath, don’t worry. Stick to the sponge bath and try it again next day, when her mood might be better.

*Home Helpers Home Care Enfield owner Peter DiMaria is a certified Alzheimer's Care and Dementia Care trainer by the Avila Institute of Gerontology, from Germantown, New York.

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At Home Helpers Home Care we have caregivers trained to deal with Alzheimer's and Dementia Care patients. They are experienced and knowledgeable and will help family members to feel more confident about the safety and wellness of their loved one.