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How to Help Bathe Someone With Dementia

Make bath time less stressful for all

Family Caregiver Alliance

Forgetfulness increases as dementia worsens. Performing everyday tasks like bathing, brushing teeth, toileting and changing clothes can be challenging. Because we are taught these personal activities are private, it might be frightening, humiliating and embarrassing for these people to be undressed and cleaned by someone.

As a result, bathing often causes distress for both caregivers and care recipients. Here are some strategies to make bathing someone with dementia easier:

  • Think historically of your loved one’s hygiene routine — did she prefer baths or showers? Mornings or nights? Did she have her hair washed at the salon or do it herself? Was there a favorite scent, lotion or talcum powder she always used? Adopting — as much as possible — her past bathing routine may provide some comfort. Remember that it may not be necessary to bathe every day — sometimes twice a week is sufficient.‬
  • If your loved one has always been modest, enhance that feeling by making sure doors and curtains are closed. Whether in the shower or the bath, keep a towel over her front, lifting to wash as needed. Have towels and a robe or her clothes ready when she gets out.‬
  • Be mindful of the environment, such as the temperature of the room and water (older adults are more sensitive to heat and cold) and the adequacy of lighting. It’s a good idea to use safety features such as non-slip floor bath mats, grab-bars, and bath or shower seats. A hand-held shower might also be a good feature to install. Remember — people are often afraid of falling. Help them feel secure in the shower or tub.‬
  • Never leave a person with dementia unattended in the bath or shower. Have all the bath things you need laid out beforehand. If giving a bath, draw the bath water first. Reassure the person that the water is warm — perhaps pour a cup of water over her hands before she steps in.‬
  • If hair washing is a struggle, make it a separate activity. Or use a dry shampoo.‬
  • If bathing in the tub or shower is consistently traumatic, a towel bath provides a soothing alternative. A bed bath has traditionally been done with only the most frail and bedridden patients, soaping up a bit at a time in their beds, rinsing off‬ with a basin of water and drying with towels. A growing number of nurses in and out of facilities, however, are beginning to recognize its value and a variation — the “towel bath” — for others as well, including people with dementia who find bathing in the tub or shower uncomfortable or unpleasant. The towel bath uses a large bath towel and washcloths dampened in a plastic bag of warm water and no-rinse soap. Large bath blankets are used to keep the patient covered, dry and warm while the dampened towel and washcloths are massaged over the body.

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