A Caregiver’s Advice About Bath Time For Dementia And Alzheimer Patients

If you know someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you might say, “It is the least I can do.” You may feel that he or she gave so much of his or her time in you youth when you were a baby, and then on into you teenage years, as well. You might even think about the times when even into young adulthood he or she still lent me his or her time and understanding.  When your loved one develops Alzheimer’s (a form of dementia) it is devastating to the family.  As the disease gets worse, he or she may become unable to carry out basic activities and daily routines.  Before long, he or she might be unable to clothe him or herself or bathe and will become totally dependent upon the family.

Some caregivers might say something like, “I took care of him for several years before his death and I did have to regularly bathe him.  It was a difficult situation, and so I understand what many people are going through right now, whether you’re a family member that has taken in a relative with Alzheimer’s disease, or another form of dementia, or if you’re just a caregiver that gives generously of your time”.  You might have to read up on the subject and get a lot of advice when the disease was first diagnosed.  It is a new experience for most, and it might be hard to understand the idea of giving a full-grown person a bath.  Of course, you might have bathed your children in years past, but this is different.  What is the most dignified way to handle this situation?  Are there any safety issues you should know about?

Education and experience are the best teachers in this case.  You should look up a professional caregiver’s advice, but also put your heart into the job and learn new things along the way.  One of the first things that you might learn is that the experience is whatever you put into it.  You do not want it be a forced chore that makes you both uncomfortable.  Do your best to make the activity enjoyable and relaxing.

You must remember that you as the caregiver are the one required to set up the schedule of bath time.  A patient with dementia may forget to take bath, may not recognize the need or even forget how to do it.  So it’s not only a caregiver’s job to bathe a person, but also to schedule convenient and regular times to do so.  You have to set the routine and stick to it.

Sometimes it might be a test to get your loved one motivated into wanting to take a bath.  There are times when he or she will resist, which make the experience frustrating.  What you can learn, however, is that when you associate bath time with a social activity, it can prompt a person to want to wash.  You may tell him or her that you have to wash first before he or she goes out to dinner or has a visitor over.  That positive reinforcement makes him or her more agreeable to bathing.  You should not force your loved one to wash; just try to make it an enjoyable experience.  Rather than criticize a patient because of their cleanliness, try and use praise and encouragement to get them to wash.

Some advice is to not use showers for bath time unless the patients have been used to it for quite a while.  A shower can be alarming and the person’s comfort is the most important factor.

As far bathing goes, it is important to simplify the process.  Let them do as much as they can.  Sometimes patients know they need a bath but may have forgotten how to wash.  If that happens, gently remind them of the required steps to take and as much as possible let them wash alone if possible.  It’s important to let the patients do as much as they can. Your loved one might be proud and independent-minded and never wanted anyone to do him or her favors.  You might imagine some of your patients or loved ones feel the same way.  That’s why the advice is to allow the patient as much dignity as possible and let them feel proud of the effort they put forth, even if it’s just a little.

It’s possible that in such an intimate situation as bath time, an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient will feel embarrassed.  This is perfectly natural and it is advisable that if they feel very self-conscious to go ahead and cover private areas of their body with a rag or towel.  If will help them feel comfortable and will help establish trust with your patient, so it is worth doing.

There may come some times when your patient refuses to take a bath and can’t be reasoned with.  If that happens, don’t try and force him or her to follow your orders.  It’s best that you just let it go, let the patient feel comfortable again, and then try at a later time when their mood might have changed.  This usually works, but if you notice it becoming a persistent problem then you may have to seek professional support and get someone else to do it.

Be sure and keep the bathroom a safe place.  Bathrooms are a wet and slippery place to be and the patient’s safety, as well as the caregiver’s, is a concern.  A good idea would be to buy some grab rails, a non-slip mat and an extra chair for support.  Just a few extra dollars spent can prevent some very serious accidents.

Yes, it is the least you can do for your loved one-- to give back some of the expense and hardship he or she once showed you when you were a baby.  While these situations were not always pleasant, let them show you that they serve reminders that you have unconditional love for your family.  If you are a caregiver, while you might not be personally dealing with a family member, always remember that these are full grown human beings you’re dealing with, with real feelings and hearts.  Many of them had children at one time and probably sacrificed a great deal for them.  When you show as much love and patience as you can, even in such personal matters like bath time, you are showing your patients that you care.  It’s important for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients to know that it’s a caregiver’s will, not just his job, to provide help.