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To bathe or not to bathe? That is the question

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

“I could tell my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio.”

Rodney Dangerfield

Have you ever tried to bathe a 5 year old while they were throwing a tantrum? Trying to convince someone who has dementia that they should take a bath or shower is no different. I know what you are probably thinking: You have tried everything and your loved one won’t take a bath or shower without throwing a fit. You feel like nothing will make a difference. As the old adage says: “You can’t judge a book by it's cover until you open it up and see what’s inside.”

Tips to Help Navigate Bathing day:

  1. Decency: One reason someone who has dementia may not want to bathe is because they feel exposed. Imagine being fully naked, not understanding why you are naked and having people you don’t know try and touch you. This would be a very frightening experience. Offer a towel or something that will help them feel covered but will also allow you to carry out the necessary washing.

  2. Don’t Argue: Much like a toddler who is having a tantrum, don’t engage or the situation may escalate. Instead, distract them by asking open-ended questions can get them thinking about something else other than the bath. Playing soft piano music or a favorite song can help with this.

  3. Create a Routine: Keeping a weekly schedule is a great way for your loved one to have a sense of security. Bathing or taking a shower 3 days a week is a great goal and way to get your loved one on a schedule. (Bonus Tip: Sponge bathing as needed on non-wash days is a great way to keep up on their hygiene and help them feel more in control of washing themselves if they are able to do it on their own. If they are not, it’s an effective non-invasive way of hygiene maintenance for you.)

  4. Just Right: Check the water temperature first and then have them check the water before being placed in the tub.

Bathing Prep: Making these simple preparations before you bathe your loved one will allow you to focus on the task at hand and any unforeseen issues that may or will arise.

1. Have Everything Ready: Be sure the lights are on and have music playing (if you choose to include it) prior to bringing them into the bathroom. The following preparations will be helpful:

  • Shampoo and Soaps placed where you can reach them easily

  • Towels are out and ready to use

  • Have a back up activity planned just in case your loved one isn’t ready

  • Shower chair set up, depending on person's ability to get in and out of the tub and or shower

  • Have lights on when leading them into the bathroom

2. Ease their Fears: Holding your loved ones hand while leading them into the bathroom gives them a sense of security. Remember, the person you are helping is in control of the shower/bathing process. People with Dementia tend to find bathing an invasive, threatening experience and will try and protect themselves by hitting and biting. Speaking with a slow, clear voice while explaining each task before performing the next step can have an incredible positive outcome of how your loved one reacts.

3.In Control: Involve them in the process by having them hold a wash cloth and wash themselves if they are able. You may need to demonstrate what parts to wash

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