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Bathing Tips for Older Adults with Dementia


Caring for an elderly parent or spouse with dementia requires flexibility and sometimes changes the way you do things.  Even routine tasks like taking a bath must be approached in a manner that is a little different from in the past.  Consider these approaches and relate them to the current state of your loved one.  The right combination will make things easier for both of you.

Go the Familiar Route

With so many changes happening in life, routine can help keep your loved one settled? Insisting on a new type of bathing method is something you want to avoid if at all possible.  If your loved one has preferred showers to baths for years, then stick with the shower.  People who used to love tub baths are often likely to find them comforting still.  Identify which approach seems to be a better fit for your loved one and keep using that option if possible.

Tune in to Temperament

A person with dementia experiences changes in mood, just like you do. Some days, the idea of a bath or shower will be welcome. At other times, it may require some coaxing.  As a caregiver, it is important to recognize what type of day your loved one is experiencing and plan the bath accordingly. For example, on a “bad day,” perhaps a bubble bath or playing music during shower time will make all the difference.

Offer Rewards

On days when your loved one is particularly resistant to taking a bath or shower, you can always try offering a reward of some type. For example, you might offer to go out for ice cream or some other treat after the bath or shower is done.

Empower Your Loved One

People with dementia possess varying levels of comprehension and ability. Some simply no longer remember how to take a bath. Others still have a good idea of the mechanics, but may need some prompting. Whatever the case, you can help your loved one to do as much as possible with a minimum of help from you.

Allowing your loved one to complete one step at a time can often be a good way to progress. Using a dry cloth, act out the action that you want him or her to do next. For example, if the idea is to wash under the arms, you use a dry cloth to mimic that action. Invite your loved one to try the same thing with the soapy washcloth you’ve prepared. When that step is complete, praise your loved one for a job well done. That will help increase the sense of confidence that he or she is feeling. Move on to the next action until everything is done.

Do What Your Loved One Can’t Do

Additional health issues may limit the mobility of your loved one. Perhaps he or she finds it impossible to reach around to scrub the back, even using a long-handled bath brush. Encourage conversation while you take care of the back scrubbing. It will feel good and seem like a perfectly natural thing for your loved one.  That is important, since your help should not cause your loved one to feel sad about being unable to perform a task.

Remember that dementia patients need caregivers who understand when to provide guidance, when to step back and remain close enough to help, and when to step in and take over part of the process.  The right strategy will likely change from one day to the next depending on what is happening in the mind of your loved one. Learn to read the signs, adjust the approach as needed, and the result will be more pleasant for both of you.


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