How can I help someone with a dementia bathe and stay clean?

1 answer | Last updated: Mar 28, 2016 staff asked...

How can I help someone with a dementia bathe and stay clean?

Expert Answers

Paula Spencer Scott, contributing editor, is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's. A Met Life Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow, she writes extensively about health and caregiving; four of her family members have had dementia.

You can do several things to help someone with dementia stay clean. It's important because the person may forget about washing up, may forget how to do so, or may have fears that get in the way of bathing (such as a fear of falling or fear of water). He may also resent intrusion in a private matter, so you need to proceed with tact.

A few ideas:

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  • Stick to a consistent bathing routine. Make it the same time the person previously bathed (morning, or before bed).
  • Don't remind or even mention how long it's been since the last clean-up. Instead of arguing, proceed with bath preparations.
  • Don't ask, "Did you shower?" or "Would you like to shower now?" Get everything ready and invite the person in: "Look, your bath is ready. I know how you love your evening bath."
  • Have everything handy so you don't leave the person alone, as they may abandon the idea.
  • Build positive associations with bathing: Precede the bath with a pleasant activity (listening to a favorite radio program) and follow up with another one (a dish of ice cream).
  • Place a brightly colored, nonskid bath mat in the tub or shower to help the person judge depth, and a colored carpet on the floor outside the shower or bath, for focus.
  • Use distractions in the room to take the person's mind off the cleaning: Play favorite music, install a lava lamp on a shelf opposite the tub, hang favorite pictures, keep up a conversation about a pleasant topic (antics of a dog or child, old family stories). Give the person a washcloth or wash mitt to occupy her hands.
  • Simplify the process so there are as few steps as possible.
  • To wash, use a combination body wash and shampoo, ideally in a pump-style bottle. (Or if hair washing is difficult, skip it for a separate time out of the bath and/or use dry shampoo.)
  • To rinse, use a handheld shower or pitcher of water.
  • To dry, use a terrycloth robe as a towel instead of toweling off first and then putting on a robe. If the person is becoming impatient, skip moisturizing. And cornstarch powder is handy to absorb lingering moisture, especially in people with many skin folds or sensitive skin prone to irritations.
  • For more suggestions, see How to Solve Hygiene Problems Common to People With Alzheimer's.