Dear Family Resource,
My mom has Alzheimer’s-type dementia and has developed an aversion to bathing. We’ve lost two caregivers because mom does everything she can to resist the shower, including biting, hair pulling, and screaming. If we could skip it we would, but it’s not healthy, and frankly, she starts to smell if she doesn’t wash at least every other day. A new caregiver is starting soon, and I’d like to learn some techniques that could make bathing her less traumatic – for all of us. What have you tried that works?
~Desperate Daughter

Dear Desperate Daughter,
Often, when dementia progresses, people lose their ability to recognize or even care about the need for personal hygiene. They are not making a cognizant choice to forego personal hygiene, rather it is their loss of judgment and inability to recognize the need to bathe and change their clothes. There are several reasons why people with Alzheimer’s-type dementia do not want to bathe – it can be an uphill battle for the caregiver. Things to consider when asking your mother to bathe: what is the best time of day; is the bathroom warm and inviting; is everything set up and ready to go once you are in the bathroom; is the shower or tub easy to get in and out of; do you have the proper equipment; will a sponge bath work better; is your mother capable of helping to undress or participate in the bath?

Use a whiteboard calendar to indicate two days/week for bathing. Point out to her, “Oh, it’s shower day!” Make sure you are cueing her every step of the way, talk to her about what is happening, and don’t assume she knows the process of showering anymore. Only shower her twice a week and try sponge bathing on other days. Dry shampoo and deodorant can work wonders. Make sure your mother’s caregiver is familiar with dementia and knows how to approach her correctly. The caregiver should not approach her too quickly, needs to speak calmly, look at her eye level, and walk her through everything that is going on.

If all else fails, stop and approach her at another time. It is helpful for your mother to become familiar with a caregiver before the caregiver assists her to bathe. Imagine a stranger trying to undress and shower you!

There are many videos that show how to assist a person with dementia to bathe, Google “how to assist a person with dementia to bathe.”

Good luck,
~ Family Resource