Alzheimer's and Bathing

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If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, you may already know that bathing can become a challenge as the disease progresses. In the early stages, your loved one may be able to bathe or shower on his or her own with little assistance other than gentle reminders that it’s time to do so. However, as your family member becomes more impaired, he or she might become resistant to taking a bath or shower or may need considerable assistance completing this task.

It’s important to employ techniques that take into account the person’s abilities, mood, and health status in order for make bathing a more pleasant experience for everyone involved. Here are some tips to help you be successful when bathing your loved one:

Empathize. Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain in such a way that once-familiar tasks may become unfamiliar and even frightening. Imagine for a moment that you are not aware of what bathing is or why it is necessary. Now imagine someone that may or may not be familiar to you trying to remove your clothing, place you in a shower or bathtub, getting you wet with water that may feel too hot or too cold, and washing you without your permission. It would only be natural for you to feel afraid and possibly violated, even though the person bathing you may only be trying to help. Empathizing with the person with Alzheimer’s helps us approach them in a gentle, compassionate way.

Assess. It’s important to know your family member’s current abilities so that you can encourage him or her to do as much as possible during the bathing process. This will help your loved one feel more independent and calm. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, caregivers should assess whether a family member can do the following:

  • Find the bathroom where bathing will take place.
  • See adequately.
  • Be able to sense whether the water temperature is too hot or cold.
  • Maintain balance.
  • Understand the purpose of each bathing product.
  • Remember the steps of bathing.

Once you assess your loved one regarding these tasks, you will know how much help to provide.

Prepare. Individuals with Alzheimer’s tend to accept a bath more readily when the bathroom is already set up for a comfortable experience. Before you ever approach your loved one about taking a bath, gather everything you need (towels, washcloths, soap and shampoo products) and organize these items in the bathroom so they will be easy to reach. Also, make sure the bathroom is nice and warm.

Adapt. Make your loved one’s feelings of comfort and safety paramount throughout the bathing process. If he or she is unsteady or uncomfortable standing, place a bath chair in the tub for sitting. Have extra-large towels handy to wrap the person up and create a sense of privacy. If you draw a bath, only draw a few inches of water. Whether bathing or showering, monitor the water temperature closely. Encourage your family member to do as much as possible, but assist when necessary in a compassionate yet matter-of-fact way.

Above all, always treat your loved one with respect, patience, and dignity.



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