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Bathing is a necessary aspect of life. However, when someone is caring for a loved one affected by a progressive dementia like Alzheimer’s, bathing can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Below are some reasons why difficulties may occur during the bathing task, and also some tips on how to overcome these challenges.

Reasons for resisting bathing:

  • May not know what bathing is for
  • May feel afraid or cold
  • May experience discomfort at the lack of modesty
  • May have had a traumatic experience related to water (e.g., drowning, burns from scalding water)

Tips to help with bathing:

  • Have toiletries, towels and washcloths available in advance to make the bathing process easier
  • Keep the room temperature warm and reduce bright lights
  • Make the person feel in-control — involve and coach through each step of the bathing process
  • Experiment to determine if the person prefers showers or tub baths and what time of day is best
  • Respect the person’s dignity — hold a towel in front of the body, both in and out of the shower
  • Use a washcloth to soap and rinse hair in the sink; reduces the amount of water on the person’s face
  • If spousal caregiver, you may need to shower together
  • If not working, try bathing later or on another day

Other considerations:

  • Bathing habits and preferences (time of day, bath vs. shower, favorite products)
  • Physical limitations that might cause bathing to be uncomfortable (e.g. arthritis)
  • Cognitive level and behavioral impairments
  • Level of comfort/familiarity with assistant

Making the bathroom safe:

It’s important to make the bathroom as safe and comfortable as possible. Install grab bars, place non-skid mats on floors, watch for puddles and lower thermostat on your hot-water heater to prevent scalding injuries. Also, take care to never leave the person with dementia alone in the bathroom, use products made of non-breakable materials, and keep sharp objects (i.e. tweezers, scissors) out of reach.

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