My mother has Alzheimer’s and won’t shower any more. How do I keep her clean?
People with dementia typically are reluctant, if not downright fearful, of bathing. This is not uncommon. Take into consideration how she has always bathed and use that as a template for how to proceed. Trying to adhere to the same schedule, rituals and routine will be helpful. If she always has bathed in the morning, keep with that. If she bathed four times a week or daily, stick to that. This is such a challenging issue, quite often family members will hire a bathing aide. Home care agencies can help you find someone if you don’t have someone on your own. It can be a win-win, as quite often the person with dementia will react better to someone outside the family, especially when it comes to something so potentially uncomfortable or embarrassing like bathing. Here are some suggestions for addressing the challenge of bathing someone with dementia: • Let the shower warm up the bathroom for a while before getting under way. Taking off clothes in a cold room is uncomfortable. • Play soft, soothing music. • Ensure good lighting in the bathroom. Fear increases when a person can’t see well. • Use a shower chair so the person can feel steady and comfortable. These can be obtained at medical supply stores or certain pharmacies. • Use a handheld showerhead or wand. This makes the situation less threatening, and it’s less likely to cause anxiety from water beating down on the person. • Use a type of soap she has always preferred. It will help if she recognizes a favorable fragrance. • See if she can bathe herself at all — then let her do it, giving her as much privacy as possible. • If you have a bathtub and she’s mobile enough, try to let her soak in it. This can be soothing, and it also allows cleaning of areas that might be difficult to get to with a shower. • Sponge baths are a good option between “regular” baths. Hospitals and nursing home regularly conduct bed baths, so there is plenty of precedence for it. The market has responded with various products that can help, such as dry shampoo. For more information, an excellent resource is “The Indispensable Alzheimer’s Resource Kit.” It can be downloaded at no cost by clicking here.