Hygiene is a topic that comes up often for those struggling with dementia. Bathing, dressing, incontinence and dental care are some of the most common tasks people have trouble following through with. There are many practical tips caregivers can follow when trying to help accomplish these tasks.

In this article we will start with bathing. Many caregivers have told me this is the primary task they have the most trouble with. First it may be helpful to address the issues the person with dementia has surrounding bathing. They may not remember what bathing is for or the steps involved. If the caregiver is unfamiliar to them they may feel embarrassed. Many people just don’t want to be told what to do, they still want their independence.
They may be sensitive to the water temperature and feel cold. People with dementia often have problems with depth perception, so the bathtub can be an intimidating place to step into. One caregiver I met suggested putting colorful bath tub grips in the shape of fish or ducks at the bottom of the tub to address this issue.

The Alzheimer’s Association has many ideas on how to approach this task. Gathering bathing supplies ahead of time is helpful. Make sure the room and water temperature are warm. Using a hand-held shower head is also useful. The bathroom must be safe. Grab bars, non-skid mats and a bath chair are all essential items. Finally, help the person with dementia feel in control. If they don’t want to bathe in the morning, try the evening. If they are resisting, revisit the idea in 10-15 minutes. You can visit www.alz.org for more tips.

A sponge bath is a good alternative in between showering. One idea that may work with some people is make the experience more spa-like. Play music, have candles in the bathroom or buy special lotions with their favorite fragrance.

One other important thing to remember is that if you are a family caregiver and are becoming frustrated with the process, consider hiring an outside agency to help. Home care agencies, as well as hospice, offer this type of help. Sometimes when our loved one is refusing our help, they may be less resistant to an outside person.

Roslyn Paine, MSW, LSW
DignityFirst Health at Home Care Manager