Acting as the caretaker for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s is challenging, especially when attempting to get the person to do something he or she doesn’t want to do. One of these activities is showering. Some people with Alzheimer’s simply don’t like it. Here are some tips that may make the process go more smoothly next time.
Instead of arguing, find ways to distract
It can be tempting to argue with a hesitant elderly person. Keep in mind that his or her mind is probably not capable of processing your argument anyway. Instead of trying to get him or her to understand how bathing reduces the risk of infection or promotes cleanliness simply sidestep the matter.
For example, mention how much fun you’re going to have as soon as the bath is over. This makes bath time seem like a foregone conclusion and draws attention away from the topic. Another strategy is to “remind” the person that it’s simply a part of that day’s routine that he or she “always” does—even if that stretches the truth. Whatever you can do to disarm the person will go a long ways toward avoiding the conflict.
Rely on positive reinforcement
If the elderly person enjoys a certain activity, mention that you’ll be doing it as soon as the bath is over. This diverts attention to the upcoming enjoyable activity and less about the bath. Make sure you do give him or her a positive reward after the bath; eventually he or she may even associate the bath with the positive outcome.
Make a game out of bath time
Instead of presenting bath time as a chore to be finished, present it as a fun activity. You may act as if your elderly loved one is going to a spa. Light candles, turn the lights down, play soft music, and even provide him or her with a comfortable and luxurious robe to mimic the spa experience.
Depending on what your elderly loved one enjoys, you may also add scented oils to the water. You may even experiment with having a whirlpool bathtub installed so it feels as if he or she is sitting in a hot tub. Focus on the experience, rather than the bathing process itself, and your elderly loved one may be so swept up that he or she forgets about the reluctance to take a bath.
Some elderly people won’t listen to you, but they will listen to their doctor. If this is the case with your elderly loved one, ask the doctor to write an official “prescription”. This can be something as simple as saying, “Mrs. Smith should bathe every Tuesday and Saturday.”
Make photocopies of the prescription in case the original is lost or destroyed. Then, you can show your elderly loved one the prescription for the bath to attempt to convince the person to bathe.
Remove any anxiety
If your elderly loved one refuses to bathe, it could be due to anxiety. To some elderly people—especially those without good eyesight—the shower head could resemble something they fear. Once they begin to lose their cognitive abilities and can no longer understand what it is, the thing protruding from the wall can instill a great fear.
You might consider installing a handheld showerhead. Get a smaller one that won’t look quite so intimidating. In this way you can ask your elderly loved one to sit in the shower chair and you can gently direct the water flow onto them.
Consider their modesty
Some elderly people are very modest. This feeling can be a powerful, even after Alzheimer’s has set in. If your elderly loved one is giving you problems about bathing, the problem may simply be embarrassment about being unclothed.
If you think this is so, you may allow him or her to wear a loose-fitting set of swim trunks or similar clothing. After the bath is completed you can remove this article. This may make it easier to get him or her into the bath.
Don’t give up
Caring for an elderly person can be difficult. With patience and understanding you can make the task of bathing go more smoothly. Follow these tips and you’ll find that bath time need not be that difficult.
Sloane, P., et al. “Bathing the Alzheimer’s patient in long term care: Results and recommendations from three studies.” American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias 10.4 (1995): 3-11.
Brawley, E. “Bathing environments: How to improve the bathing experience.” Alzheimer’s Care Today 3.1 (2002): 38-41.