Caregiving

10 Tips for Bathing Someone with Alzheimer's

Carol Bradley Bursack Dec 19th, 2014 (updated May 29th, 2015)
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As people with Alzheimer’s enter the middle stages of the disease they often become afraid of water. This fear means that caregivers can have a difficult time convincing them to bathe or shower. How should a caregiver approach this problem?

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Attitude Change
Attitude Change

There’s rarely a reason why a person with Alzheimer’s should need the daily shower that has become the norm for many Americans. Strategic cleanup is often enough.

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Empathy
Empathy

If you didn’t know why water was pounding down on your head, why wouldn’t you be afraid? Tubs can be scary, too. Try to understand that your loved one is not trying to be difficult.

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Safety
Safety

Provide grab bars, a chair, a slip free surface on the tub or shower and other reassuring safety features. This can help make your loved one feel safer.

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Discomfort
Discomfort

Is the bathroom warm? Is the water a comfortable temperature for aging bodies? Work toward physical and psychological comfort for the person with Alzheimer’s.

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Atmosphere
Atmosphere

Soft music, soothing colors, soft towels and a relaxed caregiver (the hardest part) can help many get through the bathing process with less of a struggle.

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Alternatives
Alternatives

Dry shampoos can be used for hair, sponge baths can replace full baths and extra-large wet wipes can handle many hygiene issues. Check the Internet regularly for innovative options for hygiene.

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Time of day
Time of day

People with Alzheimer’s often operate on a different “clock” than others. Perhaps early morning isn’t a good time for a bath but evening is. Try different times, always letting it go if the attempt is too upsetting.

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Modesty
Modesty

Use towels and large washcloths to allow the person to stay covered in areas that aren’t being washed. Complete physical exposure can upset the person being bathed - even a spouse.

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Conversation
Conversation

Explain in a calm, soothing voice what you are doing. “I’m going to wash your face, now.” “I’m going to wash under your arm.” “How does that feel? Okay?” 

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Know when to give up
Know when to give up

If one day is turning into a nightmare because of a bath, drop the idea or wait a couple of hours or even for another day and try again. Just don’t keep fighting. The result of a “success” may not be worth the price.