How to Handle Difficult Behaviors

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Caregivers of older adults will inevitably see their loved one exhibiting some difficult behaviors from time to time. These behaviors may stem from dementia or simply from the stress of grappling with a disability or illness. If your loved one already had a difficult personality to begin with, old age, illness or disability can make them even tougher to deal with.

What follows are 15 difficult behaviors commonly experienced by elder caregivers and some practical tips for handling them.

Behavior #1: They Won't Bathe

Possible causes:

Modesty, privacy feels invaded, dislikes bathing aide, uncomfortable (too cold, afraid of water), feels unsafe (afraid of falling), had a prior bad experience, dementia makes him or her unaware of need to bathe or forgetful about basic hygiene

What to do:

  • Start by asking in a friendly, nonaccusatory way, "Why not?" That will give you insights into how you can help. Fear of falling down? Water too hot or cold? A lack of awareness of his or her hygiene (could flag dementia)?

  • Make sure the bathing process is comfortable, in a warm, safety-proofed bathroom with a shower chair and grip rails.

  • Provide as much modesty and privacy as possible. It may be time to switch from showers to baths, or from baths to sponge-bathing. Allow the person to remain partially clothed (or robed) if that's more comfortable.

  • Allow the person as much control over the process as possible; take care not to "baby." As much as is reasonable, let your loved one choose how to bathe.

  • Find out how to help someone with Alzheimer's who refuses to bathe.