3 Creative Solutions When a Loved One Balks About Bathing

A sudden (or ongoing) aversion to being cleaned isn't unusual in someone with moderate-stage dementia. There are several interesting reasons why: Removing clothes can create a sense of loss, the temperature or water may be uncomfortable, or problems with depth perception can make getting into bath water scary. Creativity can help you conquer the discomfort. Try these ideas:

1. Place a TV/DVD player in the bathroom (as long as you can do so safely). Connecting a television in sight of the tub can be a magical diversion. A wall-mounted set (such as found in motels and hotels) might be worth the expense if bathing has become a real battle. A small countertop portable model is another option if space permits; be careful to keep the set away from water, plug it into a shockproof outlet, and be sure to put it away, out of the bathroom, after bath time. Pop in a nature DVD and start it before your loved one even enters the room. For some people, favorite music alone can do the trick.

2. Bathe in a robe or towels. If being disrobed makes the person uncomfortable, try a partially clothed bath. A light terry robe will absorb water, sure, but it can raise confidence enough for you to ask for one arm, one leg, now the back -- opening part of the robe at a time. You don't have to fill the bath very high with water to get your loved one clean. By the bath's end, the robe (or strategically placed towels) will be soaked, and he or she will be more inclined to slip into a fresh dry one.

3. Let color work for you. Sometimes a bathtub is scary because the person can't see the bottom of it, due to visual distortions. A few drops of food coloring might help the water stand out against a white tub, for example, making it much less threatening. Similarly, a too-dark bath mat inside or outside of the tub may be perceived as a hole, so try to make the mat match the color of the tub or shower, or the floor outside it.

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