Encouraging Dementia Patients to Take a Bath or Shower: 3 Gentle Methods

Published on April 10, 2024

Updated on April 21, 2024

As a caregiver for a loved one with dementia, it's important to approach daily tasks, such as bathing, with patience, understanding, and empathy. Dementia can change behavior and communication, making activities like showering or bathing challenging for both the patient and the caregiver. Here are three gentle methods to encourage a dementia patient to cooperate and take a bath or shower while maintaining their comfort and dignity.

Method 1: Establish a Familiar Routine

A routine is something you do every day or every week. It helps you know what to expect and what to do next. For people with dementia, having a routine can make them feel calmer and safer.

Choose a Consistent Time: When you help someone with dementia take a bath or shower, choosing a time that works well for them is good. Some people like to take a bath or shower in the morning when they feel fresh and ready for the day. Others like to take a bath or shower before bedtime when they want to relax and sleep well. You can ask them what they prefer or observe their mood and behavior to find the best time.

Create a Calm Environment: The bathroom can be scary for some people with dementia. They might not like the noise of the water or the feeling of being wet. They might also feel cold or exposed. You can create a calm environment in the bathroom to make them feel more comfortable. You can use soft lights, like candles or lamps, instead of bright overhead lights. You can play some soothing music, like classical or nature sounds, to drown out the noise of the water. You can also ensure the room is warm enough by turning on the heater or using a warm bathrobe.

Use Familiar Products: Another way to make the bathing experience more pleasant for someone with dementia is using products they like and recognize. You can choose bath products with scents that they enjoy, like lavender, vanilla, or lemon. These scents can remind them of happy times and places and make them feel more relaxed. You can also use products that they are used to, like their favorite soap, shampoo, or sponge. These products can help them feel more at home and comfortable.

Provide Step-by-Step Guidance: Sometimes, people with dementia might forget to take a bath or shower. They might not know what to do first or how to use the products. They might also get confused or distracted by the water or the music. To help them, you can provide step-by-step guidance. You can use clear and simple words to tell them what to do next. For example, you can say, “Now we're going to wash your arms. Here is the soap. Can you rub it on your arms?” You can also show them what to do by demonstrating or using hand gestures. You can also praise them for excelling by saying, “You're doing great. Your arms are nice and clean.”

Offer Choices: One of the challenges of helping someone with dementia take a bath or shower is that they might not want to do it. They might refuse to go to the bathroom or get angry or upset. This can be frustrating for both of you. To avoid this, you can offer choices to the person with dementia. You can let them decide things like what towel to use, what music to play, or what scent to smell. For example, you can say, “Would you like to use the blue or green towel?” or “Would you like to listen to Mozart or Beethoven?” Giving choices can make the person with dementia feel more in control and involved. It can also make them more cooperative and happier.

Method 2: Incorporate Sensory Stimulation

Sensory stimulation is when you use your senses to enjoy something. Your senses are sight, hearing, touch, smell, and . For people with dementia, sensory stimulation can make them feel happier and calmer. It can also help them remember things and connect with others.

Use Warm Towels: One way to use sensory stimulation is to use warm towels. Before you start the bath or shower, warm the towels in a towel warmer or dryer. You can also use a microwave or a hot water bottle, but be careful not to make them too hot. Warm towels can make the person with dementia feel more comfortable and cozier. They can also help them relax their muscles and ease any pain.

Use Soft Sponges or Washcloths: Another way to use sensory stimulation is to use soft sponges or washcloths. You can choose sponges or washcloths that are soft and gentle on the skin. You can also look for ones with different shapes, colors, or patterns. Avoid using rough or scratchy ones, as they might hurt or irritate the skin. Soft sponges or washcloths can make the person with dementia feel more pampered and cared for. They can also provide a nice touch sensation to soothe and calm them.

Engage in Gentle Conversation: A third way to use sensory stimulation is to engage in gentle conversation. You can talk to the person with dementia while you help them take a bath or shower. You can talk about things that make them happy, like positive memories, funny stories, or hobbies. You can also ask them questions about their interests, opinions, or feelings. Avoid discussing things that make them sad, angry, or confused, like negative memories, problems, or challenges. Gentle conversation can make the person with dementia feel more valued and respected. It can also help them distract from any fear or they might have.

Offer Massage: A fourth way to use sensory stimulation is to offer massage. You can gently massage the person with dementia's arms, legs, or back with lotion. You can use lotion that smells good, like lavender, mint, or coconut. You can also ask them where they want massaged and how much pressure they like. Avoid massaging sore, injured, or sensitive areas, like bruises, cuts, or rashes. Massage can make the person with dementia feel more relaxed and peaceful. It can also create a positive association with the bathing experience, making them more willing to do it again.

Provide Visual Stimulation: A fifth way to use sensory stimulation is to provide visual stimulation. You can place colorful, waterproof toys or objects around the bathroom to engage the person with dementia's attention. You can use toys or objects that are fun, interesting, or familiar, like rubber ducks, bubbles, or flowers. You can also let them play with or show them how to use them. Avoid using toys or boring, scary, or confusing objects like knives, needles, or clocks. Visual stimulation can make the person with dementia feel more entertained and curious. It can also help them keep busy and less anxious.

Method 3: Embrace Flexibility and Patience

Flexibility and patience are two important qualities when helping someone with dementia take a bath or shower. Flexibility means being able to change your plans or expectations according to the situation. Patience means being able to wait or tolerate something without getting angry or upset. Flexibility and patience can make people with dementia feel more respected and supported.

Respect Their Feelings: Sometimes, people with dementia might not want to take a bath or shower. They might feel scared, embarrassed, or angry. They might say no, or try to get away. When this happens, you should respect their feelings and let them know you understand. You can use empathetic phrases like, “I know this might feel unfamiliar, but I'm here to help you.” or “I can see that you're feeling upset, but I'm not trying to hurt you.” Respecting their feelings can make them feel more heard and trusted. It can also help them calm down and cooperate.

Start Slowly: Sometimes, people with dementia might be very anxious about bathing or showering. They might be afraid of the water, the products, or the process. They might not remember what to do or why they must do it. When this happens, you should start slowly and gently. You can start by washing one area at a time, such as their hands or face. You can wipe them with a warm, wet cloth or a sponge. You can also let them see and touch the products before you use them. Gradually, you can work to a full bath or shower as they become more comfortable. Starting slowly can make them feel safer and more relaxed. It can also help them get used to the bathing experience.

Stay Calm: Sometimes, people with dementia might become agitated or refuse to continue bathing or showering. They might yell, cry, or hit. They might say they want to stop or go somewhere else. When this happens, you should stay calm and give them a break. Stop the water, wrap them in a towel, or remove them from the bathroom. You can try again later or on a different day. You should not push too hard or force them to do something they don't want. Pushing too hard can make the situation worse. It can also damage your relationship with them. Staying calm can make them feel more respected and supported. It can also help them calm down and cooperate.

Celebrate Small Wins: Sometimes, people with dementia might cooperate and complete taking a bath or shower. They might follow your instructions, use the products, or enjoy the water. They might do a little or a lot, depending on the day. When this happens, you should celebrate their small wins and praise them for their cooperation. You can use positive words like, “You did an excellent job. You're so clean and fresh.” or “You're amazing. You're so brave and strong.” You can also give them a hug, a smile, or a high-five. Celebrating their small wins can make them feel more confident and happier. It can also build their willingness to take a bath or shower again.

Conclusion: Providing Compassionate Care

Taking a bath or shower can be hard for people with dementia. They might feel scared, angry, or confused. They might not want to do it or forget how to do it. But taking a bath or shower is important for their health and well-being. It can make them feel clean, fresh, and happy. That's why caregivers need to be patient, adaptable, and compassionate. They need to find ways to make the bathing experience easier and more enjoyable for the person with dementia. They can do this using three gentle methods: establishing routines, incorporating sensory stimulation, and embracing flexibility and patience. These methods can help the person with dementia feel more calm, comfortable and cooperative. They can also help the caregiver feel more confident and satisfied. Remember, every person with dementia is different, so there is no one right way to do things. The best way is the way that works for them.

Resources

Alzheimer's Association on Bathing

8 Tips to get someone with dementia to shower

Bathing, Dressing, and Grooming: Alzheimer's Caregiving Tips

Dementia Bathing Tips: 8 tips to make bathing easier

Caregiver Training: Refusal to Bathe | UCLA Alzheimer's and Dementia Care (video)

When someone with dementia REFUSES to bathe [try this] (video)

My Loved One with Dementia

Understanding Dementia (Alzheimer's & Vascular & Frontotemporal & Lewy Body Dementia) (Video)

How Do I Know Which Dementia I'm Looking At? (Video)

Dementia Training material (Free)

Promoting Meaningful Relationships with Dementia Patients through Validation Therapy

Unlocking the Power of Validation Therapy in Compassionate End-of-Life Care

Validation Therapy: A Valuable Tool for Families and Healthcare Teams

Best Practices for Approaching Combative Dementia Patients

The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias

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How Do I Know You? Dementia at the End of Life

The Dementia Caregiver: A Guide to Caring for Someone with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Neurocognitive Disorders (Guides to Caregiving)

Sundown Dementia, Vascular Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia Explained

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Dementia Care Companion: The Complete Handbook of Practical Care from Early to Late Stage

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias

Dementia Home Care: How to Prepare Before, During, and After

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Fading Reflection: Understanding the complexities of Dementia

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Ahead of Dementia: A Real-World, Upfront, Straightforward, Step-by-Step Guide for Family Caregivers

Four Common Mistakes by Caregivers of Loved Ones with Dementia and What Do Differently (video)

Eldercare Locator: a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

My Aging Parent Needs Help!: 7-Step Guide to Caregiving with No Regrets, More Compassion, and Going from Overwhelmed to Organized [Includes Tips for Caregiver Burnout]

Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver's Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm

The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself

Dear Caregiver, It's Your Life Too: 71 Self-Care Tips To Manage Stress, Avoid Burnout, And Find Joy Again While Caring For A Loved One

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

The Art of Dying

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

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