Alzheimer's and Bathing

What to Do When Your Loved One With Alzheimer's Is Reluctant to Bathe

What can you do when bathing can't be put off another day but your loved one is resisting?

  • Try the bit-by-bit approach. Ask if you can just wash your loved one's feet, stressing how relaxing it feels. Once you have the shoes and socks off and the feet washed, try hands next. Then say you'd like to wash the back: "Let's just take your shirt off so I can wash your back." Cover what you've just cleaned with a dryer-warmed towel. Going one body part at a time, you may be able to coax the person into a full sponge bath.

  • Transform the bathroom into a cozy haven your loved one comes to look forward to, rather than the site of a cold, frightening experience. Keep the bathroom temperature warm. Play music. Consider installing such distractions as a TV set, a lava lamp, flowers, or an aquarium to look at. Make sure the room smells good by spraying room freshener or the person's favorite cologne.

  • Cover the mirror. Seeing moving reflections scares some people with moderate-stage dementia; they think someone is "watching" them and feel their privacy is invaded.

  • Consider getting someone else to do the task. Bathing is intimate, and your loved one may not be comfortable with you doing the job. A weekly or biweekly visit from a same-sex relative or a nursing aide may help.

  • Look into the possibility of depression. Does your loved one show other signs of depression besides apathy about bathing?

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio