The elderly may not always like the idea of taking showers or baths. This is especially true for those with Alzheimer’s disease or another kind of dementia. They may have irrational fears, as they may believe that their caregivers will hurt them, or even that the water is dangerous. Therefore, it’s usually difficult to get them to engage in any personal hygiene activities, as they may be very fearful or resistant. So let’s explore the best way to get a dementia patient into the shower.
Understanding Why an Elderly Person May Not Want to Shower
Before we consider why an elderly person may resist bath/shower time, let’s first explore some of the possible reasons for their behaviors:
Depression is a leading reason why many older persons may forego their hygiene routines. If you observe that an elderly loved one who used to like to bathe often, wear makeup, and take pride in their appearance suddenly stops doing these things, take careful note. We recommend going for a simple checkup with a doctor, especially if low energy is also a part of the behavior change.
Unhappiness About Losing Respect and Control
As your loved one ages,(s)he may feel as if they no longer command respect or have any control over their lives. The elderly may also lose control over their hygiene. When caregivers and family members try to force them to shower, it is often received as disrespect and criticism.
Our ability to smell declines with age. So while you may quickly perceive urine, sweat, and feces odors, the elderly may not be as sharp. Over time, they can become “nose blind” to their odors and the ones in their homes. This problem may also be compounded by the possibility that the elderly begin to shower and wear clean clothes less frequently.
Inactivity and Boredom
Unfortunately, many elderly persons may experience daily inactivity and accompanying boredom (compared to their earlier active lives). This is where having weekly socialization activities will help them to make new friendships, and explore new, interesting hobbies.
Fear and Physical Complaints
Many elderly people fear bathrooms because all of those slick and hard surfaces can cause serious damage in the event of a fall.
Furthermore, a fall is far more dangerous in their advanced years. This is not a matter of having bruised egos, but a broken hip or even possible permanent immobility.
Older individuals tend to lose body heat more quickly, so they get cold much easier. They lose their energy, sense of balance, and range of motion as well. Joint pains and lower energy levels can also make doing laundry and changing clothes a major problem for them.
Most types of dementia are accompanied by mental impairment, which then leads to poor personal hygiene. It’s usually a bit difficult to get a resistant senior to take a shower even when there is no cognitive impairment. So it’s almost an impossible task to get a person with dementia into the shower.
This mental impairment may arise from conditions such as depression, adverse behavioral changes, over-sensitivity to stimuli, and losing track of time. When all of these factors collide, the result is a senior who either refuses to bathe or mistakenly believes that they just had a shower.
Dementia also magnifies fear and discomfort. Your loved one may not comprehend the sensation of water on them and/or may develop a fear of the bathroom. Sometimes they may even hallucinate that the shower drain is sucking them into a terrible abyss, making the whole act of taking a shower a traumatic experience for them.
We all have different levels of modesty. So if an elderly person is concerned about their privacy, having someone (or more than one person) watching them can be an extremely uncomfortable experience.
Fear of Water
Sometimes, seniors may be scared of water due to some traumatic incident or as a result of anxiety. Other persons may react adversely to a shower if they are accustomed to taking baths.
Middle or later stage dementia patients may not understand your presence. They may feel violated when you try to remove their clothing. There may also be confusion about why they need to be washed and so there is a lot of resistance.
You might also find that dementia patients can become sexually inappropriate during bathing times. Such persons often misinterpret your assistance. If that happens, it’s probably best to remain calm without yelling at the person. Simply explain who you are (whether nursing aide or family caregiver) and your purpose (helping them to get clean).
How You Can Provide the Right Environment for Bathing
Here are some great tips on how to create the right space and time to encourage an elderly dementia patient to take a shower or a bath:
Preparation is Key
You need to prep the bathing area. Have the soap and shampoo ready, as well as a large, warm towel. Be sure to offer the patient a choice between a bath and a shower. There may not be a strong preference. However, offering this choice lets the person retain some autonomy and control, which will increase the likelihood of compliance with the hygiene processes.
You should bear in mind that having a lot of water in the tub may cause fear. Also, the spraying of a shower can make other persons feel anxious.
Change the Time of Day
If you’re unaware of the person’s usual routine, then ask a family member when (s)he typically showers and/or takes a bath. Many of us have established routines, so honoring the person’s routine will help you to effectively care for the patient.
Maintain a Warm Room Temperature
You should ensure that the room is warm enough. A cold room and water makes for a negative experience for a dementia patient.
Facilitate Their Independence
If the dementia patient is able, you can ask if they can wash themselves (especially the private areas). This will help them to retain some dignity even though they require your assistance with bathing.
Use a Caregiver of the Same Gender to Give a Bath
If a dementia patient is embarrassed or becomes sexually inappropriate, then offering a caregiver of the same sex can help during bath time. You can also use large bath towels or shower capes to offer some privacy and warmth during the bathing process.
Placing music in the bathroom can make the bathing process more pleasant. Choose tunes that the patient loves and may even be able to sing along with.
Be aware that your loved one may also be in pain and so will resist taking a shower. If that seems to be the case, then speak to a doctor about trying pain medication before bath times to make it all easier.
Laughter Goes a Long Way!
Humor can be very helpful, especially when it’s time to take a shower or bath. Laughter helps to relieve anxiety, improve comfort levels, and provides a welcome distraction from the task to come.
Create a Spa-Like Experience
Try to create a nice setting in the bathroom. Instead of a sterile, hospital-like bathroom, change the environment. Place some interesting, yet calming in the space, like art on the walls, play some relaxing music, and even invest in a towel heater for comfort.
Don’t have the time and resources to deck out your bathroom like a spa? Then FAWSsit can help! You can turn any room into a secure, waterproof shower area using one of our portable, self-contained shower stalls. All you need is a nearby faucet and you are ready to create that spa-like experience for your loved one.
Use the Doctor’s Orders as Leverage
You can also remind your loved one that bathing is one of their doctor’s requirements. This will help when they redirect their temporary irritation towards the doctor and not you!
Use No-Rinse Soap and Shampoo
If a longer bath time leads to more anxiety, then use no-rinse products to shorten the time in the bathroom.
Experiment With Different Words
Some seniors with dementia may react differently to various terms associated with bathing. So try calling it “washing up”, or “getting ready for the day ahead”.
Get Professional Help
Your loved one may respond better to someone who’s not a family member. They may feel less embarrassed accepting help with bathing from a person with whom they will have limited contact in the future.
Try a Different Family Member
A dementia patient may have different reactions to different family members. So try different close relatives to see who will have the most success. And remember, don’t take it personally. Your loved one may just gravitate towards a certain personality. It has nothing to do with his/her true regard for you.
Assist With Sponge Bathing
Although the ideal option is to take a shower or a bath, that may not always be possible. So you should try to keep your loved one clean by assisting them with sponge bathing.
Important Safety Tips
- Use a shower chair for comfort and safety.
- Make sure that the water isn’t too hot or too cold.
- Don’t leave your loved one alone in a shower or bath.
- Install grab bars.
- Place non-slip decals and mats in the tub and on the floor.
- Don’t store cleaning products in the bathroom. Sometimes dementia patients may access such items and harm themselves.
How to Convince an Elderly Person to Bathe
If you’re wondering how to give an elderly person a shower or a bath, there are several strategies that you can employ. Once you know some of the reasons behind their reluctance to bathe, you can then experiment to see what works and what doesn’t to have hassle-free bath time.
Remind Them of the Doctor’s Orders
Your loved one’s doctor is a great resource. Your physician can help you to discover if depression is a factor and if antidepressants may provide relief and increase your loved one’s energy levels. Having a renewed zeal for life will make self-care more likely, and make him/her more aware of hygiene needs.
Also, your doctor can rule out other factors that may affect a dementia patient’s ability and/or willingness to care for themselves and accept assistance to do so. Your doctor can give you valuable tips on how to better care for your loved one.
Bear in mind that an elderly person often respects doctors and are more likely to follow their recommendations over your pleading. So use whatever works!
Surmounting the Poor Hygiene Power Struggle
Does your elder refuse to be “corralled” or “bossed around?” Then you’ve got a power struggle on your hands. But don’t give up hope!
You can use some intentional and loving trickery to get them to come around. Get a close friend to call and invite your loved one to an outing (like lunch) that requires getting dressed up. Everyone likes to look their best, so that may help reduce bath time resistance.
This may seem childish, but the prospect of a special treat is always a good method. You can offer dinner at their favorite restaurant on their weekly bath day. This will serve as a great encouragement for them to keep clean and fresh!
Incorporate the Right Bath Aids
There are specially designed bath aids that you can use to help you and your loved one to have easier bath times.
If you can get them into a shower, but they aren’t steady on their feet or quickly get tired, then you can get a shower chair. This reduces the risk of falling.
Also, a hand-held showerhead can help a person who is afraid of, or easily overwhelmed by water. It allows them (or a caregiver) to direct the water stream only where wanted and at the right times.
Grab bars on tubs and shower stalls are also important for persons who fear falling. These extra points of support can help a senior to safely and more easily navigate entering and exiting a tub or shower.
Use Encouraging Language
It’s important to use the right words when you talk to your loved one about bathing and changing their clothing. If they need help bathing and also like getting pampered, then refer to bath days as “spa days”. Use scented body wash and their favorite lotion afterward. This will help them to focus on the enjoyable aspects and enjoy how they will feel and smell after bath times.
Be careful and tactful when pointing out body odor or soiled clothing. Sometimes, an elderly person may not notice and will likely be embarrassed when you point it out. On the other hand, if indifference is more likely, then bear in mind that nagging is always counterproductive. Try to manage your frustrations and not let them be aware that you are having a difficult time.
You can also use positive reinforcement to encourage hygiene compliance. Whenever you get them to take a sponge bath or put on clean clothes, heap on the compliments! Let them know how great they look and smell. We all like getting positive attention, so reward the behavior you want to see. This will make it more likely for them to indulge in more bath times!
Treat Dementia Patients With Lots of Care
Taking care of someone with dementia requires special caregiving that is unique to each family. Some patients may only need reminders to take a shower or to get dressed. But others may get distressed or angry at the mere mention of the same. You also never know when new behaviors or fears might emerge or disappear. So you need to proceed with caution and schedule hard tasks at the time of day when your loved one is most cooperative.
You also shouldn’t insist on a complete shower/bath and outfit change all at once. It’s best to break down each task into smaller pieces and over a longer time to make it easier for both of you.
You can start by asking your loved one to wipe their face. If they agree, then gradually move to cleaning their underarms and other parts of their bodies. Make sure that you’re talking to them and keep explaining your actions as you clean them up. Be very soothing. If they fight or say stop, then stop. You can always try again later. These small victories can serve as a useful stopgap between full baths or showers.
Get the Help You Need
Hiring a home health aide can help you keep your loved ones clean. Some seniors may be completely opposed to the idea at first, but then, they will likely decide that having a stranger help them is less embarrassing than having a relative do so.
Also, home health aides are trained to assist persons with all physical and cognitive abilities. They know how to quickly conduct a shower or bath, thoroughly and respectfully, while ensuring that the client is comfortable. But do your due diligence to choose a reputable home care company that will provide the right aides for your loved one.
Explore Long-Term Care Options
As your loved one loses their ability to complete daily tasks like bathing and grooming, then independent living is not possible. You must be willing to concede that your elder will not regain their physical and mental abilities. So continuing to live on their own may become dangerous.
Your family dynamics may or may not allow you to take care of him/her in your home. If you can have your loved one live with you, then you may need to get professionals to come into your home and help care for him/her.
Also, you may need to consider an assisted living facility, a memory care unit, or a nursing home. Although it can be difficult to move into such institutions, many elderly thrive in these settings. An elderly person with dementia may react more favorably with doctors and professional health aides than a family member. Plus, they are surrounded by their peers and well-trained staff members who know how to encourage good hygiene, eating well, and taking all necessary medications, among other things.
You need to choose the option that works best for you, your loved one, and your family.
Compromise is Essential for the Better Hygiene of a Dementia Patient
We’ve explored many ways to improve your loved one’s hygiene. However, the best way to get a dementia patient into the shower or bath is through understanding your loved one and compromising. You may have to lower your standards for cleanliness to keep your elder happy. Don’t worry about a pristine appearance and strictly following a routine. Get professional help and explore all caregiving options for your loved one.
FAWSsit understands that bath time can be difficult for elderly and dementia patients. So we have the perfect solution to make bath time a breeze for you and your loved one. There’s no need for remodeling. Quickly transform any room in your home into a relaxing bathroom with one of our portable, self-contained shower stalls. All you need is a faucet and you’re ready! We invite you to contact us today to discuss which of our products will meet your loved one’s needs for the best way to get a dementia patient into the shower.