Avoid battles over bathtime
Bathing is a constant struggle for many caregivers of seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other cognitive impairments. It’s important to keep your older adult’s body clean to prevent skin infections, reduce UTI risk…and avoid stinky body odor!
But trying to get them to take a bath or shower often results in arguments, hostility, crying, or screaming. That ruins everyone’s day and skyrockets your stress level.
So what can you do when your senior refuses to shower? We’ve got 7 tips to help you overcome their resistance to bathing.
7 tips to get someone with Alzheimer’s to take a bath
1. Establish a daily routine
Even if older adults don’t need to bathe every day, it’s usually easier to establish a regular daily routine that includes bathing at the same time every day. That way there’s no question about when or why it’s happening – it’s just part of the normal flow of their day, like eating or sleeping.
A predictable daily routine reduces your senior’s overall stress and anxiety and makes them more likely to bathe without resistance.
2. Make the bathroom warm and comfortable
Many seniors don’t like to bathe because all they remember is being cold and shivering. Older adults feel cold much more easily than someone younger. Making the bathing experience comfortable will reduce objections before and during the shower.
5-10 minutes before they enter the bathroom, turn on a space heater to make the bathroom nice and warm. If you’re a bit hot and sweaty, that’s probably a good temperature.
Lay a towel on the chair or toilet seat where they sit to take off their clothes so it won’t feel cold and hard. You might even want to play soft, soothing music to create a serene, spa-like atmosphere.
3. Use positive reinforcement and don’t argue
Don’t try to argue with your older adult about how many days it’s been since their last shower, how stinky they are, or why good hygiene is important. Logical reasoning doesn’t work. Instead, keep sentences short and simple and focus only on the positive, fun activities that come after the bath.
For example, when the bathroom is warm enough, go over to your older adult, make eye contact, and smile. Extend your hand so they’ll take it, get up, and let you escort them as they walk (toward the bathroom).
After they’ve started walking, say something like “Let’s go shower now and then we’ll have a yummy snack (cookies, juice, etc.) and do something fun.” As you walk, keep the conversation focused on the snack or fun activity to avoid discussing or arguing about the shower. “Those chocolate chip cookies are your favorite, aren’t they? And we can put together that puzzle with the beautiful birds.”
If you do this consistently, taking a shower becomes associated with positive things like their favorite snack or activity.
4. Say “we” not “you”
During the entire bathing experience, it’s helpful to use a calm, soothing tone and say “we” instead of “you.” This gives the feeling that you’re doing this relaxing activity together, they’re not going through it alone, and scary things won’t be done to them.
5. Use a hand-held shower head to reduce fear
The spray of a shower can be terrifying to a person with Alzheimer’s. Some speculate this happens because they can’t see the water that’s hitting them and it feels like something invisible is attacking their head. To solve this problem, install a hand-held shower head instead of a regular one so you can control when and where the water touches them.
Before turning on the water, get them seated in the shower chair. Then, with the shower head at feet-level and pointing away, turn on the water and adjust the temperature. When the water is warm, say “Let’s put our hands (or feet) in the water now” and slowly start spraying water on those body parts to give them time to adjust to the feeling.
If the loud sound of the water bothers them, don’t turn the taps on all the way so the spray won’t be as strong. Or, use a simple shut-off valve so you can easily turn the water on and off while soaping up.
6. Make sure there are no surprises or guesswork needed
Bathing takes so many steps, it’s no wonder that it’s overwhelming for a person with Alzheimer’s. But even if your older adult doesn’t know what to do next, they’ll likely still remember how to do it.
At every step, let them know what’s going to happen and coach them through it so they can do as much as possible on their own. This gives them control and improves self-confidence. Plus, if they know what’s going to happen at every step, they won’t be as scared or anxious.
For example, you could say “Let’s rub the soap on your arm now. That’s great. Now we’ll rinse the soap away.”
7. Use extra towels for comfort and warmth
While showering, it helps to use a towel to cover body parts that aren’t currently being washed. Make your senior more comfortable by keeping the towel warm with occasional sprays of water.
After bathing, they won’t get chilled if you immediately wrap them in two large, dry towels (front and back). This can be done while they’re still sitting on the shower chair. Get them mostly dry before moving them out of the tub.
Recommended for you:
— 3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home
— Why Experts Recommend Lying to Someone with Dementia
— 4 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Keeps Repeating Questions
By DailyCaring Editorial Team