Bathing Someone With Alzheimer's
Bathing is often called the most challenging activity for both the person with dementia and the caregiver. What a shame that the idea of relaxing in a warm tub filled with bubbles rarely matches the typical caregiver–care receiver experience. Standing naked, afraid of falling, in a room that may be drafty, with water coming from all kinds of unexpected places may result in pain, fatigue, weakness, confusion, and anxiety for the person with Alzheimer's disease. These feelings may also exist before the bath and get worse because of the bath.
If "bath" is a bad word, try saying, "Let's get ready for the day (or night as the case may be)."
To make bathing easier:
- Let the person feel in control. Does the person prefer showers, a tub bath, and at what time of day?
- Create a safe atmosphere. Put non-slip adhesives on the floor and bottom of tub, install grab bars to prevent falls, test the water temperature in advance
- Use a bath bench.
- Respect the person's dignity. Allow the person to keep a towel around him or her both in and out of the shower, if necessary
- Don't worry about bathing. It doesn't have to be done every day. Sponge baths can be used in between showers and baths.
- Be gentle.The person's skin may be sensitive. Avoid scrubbing. Pat dry, Use lotion.
- Be flexible. If the person does not want a shampoo use a wash cloth to soap and rinse the hair or a shampoo in a cap or no rinse shampoo can be substituted for a regular shampoo.
Talk with the person, tell him what you are going to do next, encourage him to wash areas that he can and watch that the flow of water so it is not too strong. These tips can contribute to making bathing a pleasant experience.
A person can also be washed in his room in bed, if showers or baths are not comfortable or feasible.
Bathing Tips for Someone With Alzheimer's
- Water splashed on the face can be frightening for the person with Alzheimer's. It may be helpful to use a washcloth on the face.
- Running water can be scary. Face the person away from it. If you cannot wash the person's hair in the shower or bath, consider dry shampoo.
- Removing clothes can be frightening or painful and cause a feeling of loss. Don't rush.
- If you have to bathe someone and he refuses, consider waiting till after he takes a nap, and then use a sponge bath.
- Think of things that might relax the person--soft background music; make sure the bathroom is warm.
- Assistive items such as a shower with a hand-held nozzle, a shower chair in the stall, or a bath bench can be helpful if you know how to use them correctly.
- Use distractions if the person is nervous or uncomfortable to try to take his attention away from the water or what is scaring him.
- Have all necessary items at hand because you cannot leave the person alone to go get something.
Different techniques can be used depending on the needs of the person in your care. Here is a quick summary:
- Bed bath -- this may be useful if the person must stay in bed. This is a also a good time to check for skin conditions such as bedsores or rashes. (For detailed instructions, see The Comfort of Home™: A Complete Guide for Caregivers.)
- Basin bath -- if the person is in a chair or wheelchair, you can give a sponge bath at the sink.
- Tub bath -- use if the person has good mobility and is strong enough to get into and out of the tub. Be careful -- tubs can be dangerous if a person has problems with balance.
- Shower -- make sure the floor is not slippery; let the person smell soap and feel a towel if he does not understand; make sure the room is warm.
In the advanced stage of dementia, bed or sponge baths may be the only choices you have.