How can I wash my mother's hair when she resists shampooing?

A fellow caregiver asked...

I'm responsible for taking care of my mom's hair, but she hates having it touched, let alone shampooed. She pulls away or fights back, and I end up feeling terrible. What can I do?

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

It's not uncommon for an older person to be sensitive about having her hair handled or getting her face wet, especially if she's got dementia or Alzheimer's. She may find it irritating and even frightening.

There are some no-rinse products you could use, but I'm not sure how clean they really get the hair. These products also tend to build up a residue over time, so even if you used one of them, eventually you'd need to wash your mom's hair with shampoo and water. When you do, try to be as gentle as you can, explaining what you're doing and touching her hair only as much as needed.

Your mother may find it more comfortable to be shampooed at a sink, as they do at beauty salons. Pull a sturdy chair up to a sink, cushion the back with lots of towels, and have your mom lean back. Use a cup to pour warm water onto her scalp, being careful not to get water on her face. You may want to use baby shampoo, which rinses out quickly and doesn't sting the eyes.

If you're shampooing your mom in a tub or shower, purchase a shower hose with a gentle spray that you can direct away from her face rather than using the overhead spray. You could also rinse by pouring cups of warm water onto her scalp. Pour the water slowly, using your hands or a towel to protect her eyes and face. And make sure the water is comfortably warm, not too hot or too cold.

Keep in mind that your mom doesn't need a shampoo that often -- once or twice a week should be fine. And keeping her hair short will make it easier to wash and care for.