How can I bathe my mom with dementia who passes out from fear?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 24, 2016
Ethel51 asked...

please tell me how i can bathe my 83 year old mother who has dementia the last time we tried to bathe her she passed out from fear and embarrassment is it true in nursing homes they would sedate someone like this?


Expert Answers

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

I'm so sorry to hear about your mother's intense reactions to bathing. Fortunately there are ways you can deal with this and you certainly won't ever need to sedate her nor should anyone allow a nursing home to sedate a person to give her a bath.

If she's able to express her desires, try to follow them as best you can. Your mother's fear may stem from a couple of reasons. Maybe she always took tub-baths in the evening and had her hair done at a salon. On the other hand, you take showers in the morning. Because dementia often affects people's perceptions, the shiny chrome of the faucet of a shower may appear to them as some strange torture instrument. The water from a shower can feel painful on the skin of elders. The water temperature is hard to set just right.

She could simply be so modest that she feels far too vulnerable in the nude. If her reaction comes from embarrassment, you can help her by making sure she's never completely nude. She may be comfortable on a shower chair with a towel covering her lap and wearing a tee-shirt on top. You can use a washcloth or sponge, reaching up under the towel and the tee-shirt.

When it comes to dementia caregiving, it's okay to get as creative as you need to be. You can switch to a sponge-bath wherever it seems least disturbing to her: in the kitchen, in the living room or even in the garden, if you have privacy. A sponge-bath is as effective as a full shower in actually getting a person clean. You don't have to give her a whole-body bath all at once; you can spread it out over a couple of days. You can give her a sponge bath in "steps" "“ torso at one point, feet and legs at another time and middle-section while you're helping her get dressed. If this still doesn't help ease her extreme anxiety, you can use "no-rinse" cloths and shampoo.