For seniors in the middle to late stages of dementia, what was once a pleasant routine for bathing and self-care can turn into a frustrating chore or, at its worst, uncomfortable, embarrassing torment. As dementia progresses and the ability to complete daily tasks diminishes, something as simple as bathing can become extremely difficult and unpleasant. If the loved one you’re caring for becomes resistant to bathing, you’ll need a plan to tackle bath time challenges in a way that’s safe for both of you.
Bathing can be one of the hardest tasks for dementia caregivers,” says Rob Low, Community Relations Director at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, a memory care assisted living community in Pensacola, Florida. “It often makes love ones feel embarrassed and vulnerable, angry and stubborn. And caregivers may feel equally as embarrassed if they’re caring for a parent or sibling. For bathing routines to be effective, they must be established with a solid understanding of dementia and an approach that maintains as much dignity as possible.”
Why Bathing Is a Struggle for Those with Dementia
From a caregiver’s point of view, bathing is a necessary task for staying clean, healthy and presentable in the presence of others. Though from the perspective of a person with late-stage dementia, bathing seems like an unnecessary form of punishment. Some of the reasons for this stance are obvious, but others require some knowledge of dementia to understand.
Consider the following ways bathing can be a challenge for loved ones:
They feel embarrassed or angry that they can’t take care of themselves.
Being naked in front of a caregiver makes them feel vulnerable.
The uncomfortable sensations can make them fear the task.
If they don’t recognize their caregiver, bathing can be a frightening experience.
Changes in the brain can cause certain sensations, such as water touching the skin, to feel severely uncomfortable.
Reasoning and logic are off the table; those with dementia aren’t interested in the logical reasons for a bath.
While this isn’t a definitive list, these reasons are typically at the core of most bathing challenges for someone with dementia. Some of these issues are beyond our control, but many of them can be addressed and partially eliminated with careful observation and support, making bath time routines easier on both you and your loved one.
Tips for Bath Time Preparation
Before you even involve your loved one, take time to prep the bathroom to ensure a simple, comfortable experience. Get everything ready ahead of time: gather soap, shampoo, a washcloth, towel and a clean set of clothes. Make sure the bathroom is well-lit and warm to make it as comfortable as possible. If you think it might help your loved one relax, play some soft, soothing music in the background. Run the water at a comfortable temperature and check it before your loved one gets in to make sure it’s not too hot or cold.
Once the bathroom is ready, let your loved one know it’s time for a bath matter-of-factly. Try to avoid saying anything that might offend them or cause an argument. Try to be as positive as possible and respect your loved one’s dignity. If they refuse, remember to be patient. Let the matter go and try again later.
Tips for a Pleasant Experience
After you succeed at getting your loved one to agree to a bath or shower, try to make the experience more pleasant for them. Tell them what you’re going to do at each step. If they are sitting in a shower chair, drape a towel over their shoulders or on their lap to give them some privacy. Respect their dignity by allowing them to do whatever they can by themselves.
The following tips might make a bath easier for both of you:
Try to follow your loved one’s regular routine, whether they used to bathe in the morning or at night.
Let your loved one hold a washcloth (even if they don’t use it) to feel like they have a purpose.
Install a handheld showerhead.
Put slip-proof mats in the tub for extra support.
Install a shower chair or grab bars in the shower to help your loved one get in and out.
Wait to wash their hair in the sink if that’s easier than washing it in the shower.
Afterwards, use a warm, clean towel to pat them dry. Don’t rub, as this can feel abrasive and cause possible skin irritation. Make sure your loved one is completely dry before helping them get dressed.
Seek Support When You Need It
Sometimes, a loved one’s resistance or late-stage dementia can make it nearly impossible for a family caregiver to have a successful bath time routine. In this case, it might be best to seek the help of an in-home care aid who specializes in working with seniors with dementia. Your loved one may respond better to a third party whose job it is to bathe them.
“Don’t feel defeated if you have to pass on certain caregiving tasks to professionals,” says Low. “This happens to everyone eventually as their loved one’s dementia progresses. Many family caregivers find that it’s better for their loved one and their own sanity to seek help from those trained in dementia care.”
If the tasks of caring for your loved one become so difficult that you need full-time support, you may want to consider the options for around-the-clock memory care at a senior living community. As a resident, your loved one will receive professional support with all tasks of daily living, as well as experience 24-hour security, social opportunities and specialized programming to keep them active. If you would like to learn more about memory care and the services available at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, give us a call today!
Clarity Pointe … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three freestanding, purpose-built Memory Care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to Memory Care Assisted Living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.