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?


about 1 year ago, said...

Yes that was once again very helpful. Thank you


about 1 year ago, said...

Thank you for these ideas, washing is a nightmare. I will do something with the shower room immediately, I will consider getting someone in to do the washing.


about 1 year ago, said...

Good tips that the article and everyone shares. When my patient was still able to shower, I would get him into the bathroom and start the shower. When he heard the water he would get in. When that stopped working, I gave him sponge baths. The bigger issue was I had to keep reminding myself that he is refusing to shower because he has a disease. I accepted that and it made it easier to endure the smell of him not bathing.


almost 2 years ago, said...

My mom, who very soon will be moving in with my sister, is still, at 92, a pretty particular gal!! Her favorite color for towels and bathroom linens was always peach. So, when I visit her (which is three-four times during the week), I always start my routine by saying, "I have some clean pastel towels for you, and a washcloth. Laundry is so boring - here's the fresh ones, so you're all tidied up." I does wonders. Next thing I know mom is in the bathroom, washcloth in hand, and doing her beauty routine. "Doesn't it feel nice with a clean washcloth on your face?" She also really likes the smell of the fabric softener I use in the laundry - so that can be a good strategy: to try and get your family member to use a cleaning towel - making certain the laundry soap and fabric softener are pleasantly scented. It sounds trivial but, in mother's case - sure makes a difference for HER!


over 2 years ago, said...

Using the bit-by-bit method, starting with the feet. . Had not heard that before.


over 2 years ago, said...

I always learn something new in these blogs. Never had any idea about mirrors, but boy, does that make sense! My husband has frequent hallucinations, and now learning about the mirrors, well, he's maybe not hallucinating but talking to the guy in the "windows". Thanks for that tip. Also about bathing. I also thought he'd rather have me help with showering and changing but WRONG! I think some people are more compliant with a "stranger" because there is an air of authority with a new person, and they know how far they can push us....till we back off. Having an aid from the VNA come help twice a week has been a God send!


over 3 years ago, said...

I don't have this problem at this time because we shower together most of the time and he finds this a pleasure. We have done this most of our married life when he was not traveling so because it is a familiar routine this might be why he doesn't fight taking a shower. There are some days he doesn't want to take one so I don't push it. He fell one day in the shower so I had bars installed all around the next day and he likes them and is comfortable with them.


almost 4 years ago, said...

I knew nothing about the mirror, and I thought my mother would prefer me to a stranger, but she may not!


almost 4 years ago, said...

Well, I am thankful to say that we have the opposite problem. 2 years ago when we moved Mom/Dad to the Assisted Living part of the facility, they had to figure out pricing for them wanting to have a shower EVERY DAY! Mom passes in January this year, so now it's just Dad. He tells us he gets up early, turns on the heat in the apartment, strips and gets back into bed and waits for the aides to come help him bathe. For him, it replaced the intimacy he had with Mom. He almost talks about it like sex. Whatever keeps him happy is worth it, I say! He especially enjoys having his back scrubbed.


almost 4 years ago, said...

When patient won't soak in a tob: Sponge bathe using an anti-itch lotion such as Eucerin - use soft paper towels to wipe on and off to save laundry. The lotion actually removes fecal material more gently than soap and water and saves the rinse step and helps quell itching.


over 4 years ago, said...

ALWAYS START THE DAY WITH LAUGHTER, THIS SEEMS TO WORK WITH MY MOM .EVEN WHEN YOU THINK IT WIL NOT WORK .THIS HELPS TO KEEP HER IN THE COMFORT ZONE. INCLUDE THIS WITH CHORES ,THEY SEEM TO HONE IN ON THIS .MAYBE .BIT BY BIT "SPONGE BATHS SEEM TO WORK THE BEST . MOTIVATION WITH HUMOR


over 4 years ago, said...

some things that have worked for me are 'window shopping; using colored pencils (crayons might seem too baby-like) to color a picture they have already drawn with a pen; using water-colors; going to an arboretum or large garden and slowly sample-sniffing the different scents, even roses' different colors, which are so very different from each other. maybe a National Geographic nature or travel film.


over 4 years ago, said...

parts were helpful. suggestions of music or tv were not. I have dementia, and noise stresses me out. also, when I worked in hospital several years ago, i found that some people werer agitated by noise, especially at the high volume/ loudness so common today. thank you for your help.


over 4 years ago, said...

Great ideas. Making bathing a warm, positive experience (or an event with candles/scents) is great. A few more ideas: (1) As mentioned elsewhere on this site for other situations, part of the reason for refusing something or being hesitant to make a choice may be that THEY DON'T REMEMBER that they like it. So it may help to GENTLY REMIND OF WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT BATHING WITHOUT BEING OBVIOUS. For choosing food, it goes "Hey, they have your favorite ___ dish on the menu--shall we order that?" (Or give them simpler choices like A or B.) For bathing, I reminded Mom how she likes the feeling of being clean, relaxing in the wam water, having her scalp massaged with shampoo, and having water running over her head to rinse her hair. (2) Then TAKE TIME TO LET THE PERSON SAVOR THEIR FAVORITE PARTS OF THE EXPERIENCE--for Mom it was massaging shampoo into her scalp for several minutes as the highlight of the bathing. (3) There may be FEAR/DISCOMFORT ABOUT SOMETHING (e.g. the stranger in the mirror mentioned in the article, they were cold before or felt like they might slip/fall, etc.)--sometimes it takes gentle, patient discussion to figure this out and agree on how to make it not be a problem--"because I know how you love to get your hair washed." (4) One thing that may be fear-inducing is having a series of different people bathe your loved one. It is indeed a private thing. With home care or institutions you probably can REQUEST THAT ONLY ATTENDANTS THEY'RE ALREADY COMFORTABLE WITH DO THE BATHING. Consider requesting same-gender, and even same-race. My Mom was certainly not racist, but in her confusion/regression it was jarring for her to have a black woman or a man helping with toileting/bathing or appearing bedside at night. Two of the best attendants at Mom's nursing home were black men but she freaked out a little with them and was less stressed with white woman attendants. That's where these AD folks are, so we should be aware of it and accommodate it. One of her roommates was a Chinese woman who didn't speak English--I felt so sorry for her. (5) A specific example of fearfulness: Be aware that, IF YOUR PERSON HAS COPD, THEY MAY BECOME SHORT OF BREATH IN THE BATH/SHOWER, especially if water/room is hot or they're anxious. This was a big fear-generator for Mom--I stayed right with her and dried her off fast if she had one so she wouldn't get chilled. "You'll be OK--you had this once before, and you were fine once you caught your breath. Too bad the timing is bad, right when you were having a nice shower." And then the next time, reassure them, get them doing their calm breathing, and keep the water/room from getting too hot. (6) Back when she was still at home and making some sense, I would frankly TELL HER GENTLY SHE NEEDS TO BATHE BECAUSE SHE'S STARTING TO SMELL BAD. "Remember how Dad smelled when he refused to bathe?--you're getting a little bit like that and I know that's not what you want." We had a little nonjudgemental "isn't that strange/funny I can't tell" discussion and she went and bathed.... (For this, and moreover for handling their finances for them, it's important to maintain their trust and ask others to clearly/consistently support you.) Well, those are my ideas. BEST WISHES, EVERYONE! --Jenny in MD


almost 5 years ago, said...

no one seems to be able to get my LillyMa into shower or the beautiful therapy tub in the facility. Not sure why she is so reluctant, nothing works.


about 5 years ago, said...

Mom does not have Alzheimer's, severe dementia, though. She still has some cognition, but the short term memory is lacking severely. Bathing is not a priority w/ her anymore, in fact she says she doesn't feel clean when she showers & shoots using the tub out of the water (no pun intended). Gentle persuasion not working either. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


about 5 years ago, said...

The possibilty of depression playing a part. Also, the bit by bit approach.


about 5 years ago, said...

Was great information.


about 5 years ago, said...

I like the idea of music in the bathroom. Your suggestion of the bit-by-bit sponge bath is also a good idea on those days when hubby is unwilling to shower. Thank You Paula


over 5 years ago, said...

All of the ideas are nice but the residents I work with are terrified of the tub room. No amount of coaxing, soothing ambiance, or different workers are able to get them into the tub. Any other ideas?