Today’s guest blog post is by Paula Spencer Scott, senior editor at Caring.com
Memory loss and other cognitive problems affect all aspects of life — but the effects on personal care and hygiene can be especially troubling. These lapses can be painful to see and awkward to discuss. The following strategies can help you keep a loved one cleaner and neater without ruffling too many feathers in the process:
Find ways to subtly simplify the person’s routine. This approach can help some of the milder issues you encounter. A shorter haircut can be easier to wash and comb, for example, and may need less frequent washings than a more elaborate do.
Invest in multiples. Sometimes people with dementia find security in wearing the same thing day after day. Or they forget what they wore yesterday and realize only that a particular outfit makes them feel happy or comfortable — so they reach for the same dirty clothes endlessly. One option is to buy a duplicate set of the same clothes. When one set is being worn, the other can be washed. Try to get to the dirty set that has been taken off after the person falls asleep, so he or she doesn’t automatically put it on again in the morning.
Change the way you encourage your loved one to bathe. The answer may well be “no” if you ask, “Do you want to shower now?” or “Are you ready for your bath?” Better: Get everything ready and then say, “Look, your nice bath is all ready. I know you love to be clean for supper, and we’re having your favorite today.”
Consider whether there’s something about bathing that’s upsetting. If your loved one is resistant to cleaning up, it may be something about the process that is making him or her upset or frightened. For example, the water temperature may be uncomfortably hot or the room too cool right after. Try putting yourself in the person’s place and thinking through any possible impediments. Sometimes the person is uncomfortable in the presence of the helper, because of modesty or because the helper is too quick or rough.
Try distraction. Getting cleaned up may be more pleasant for everyone if favorite music is playing in the bathroom. Some people report that having a TV set or a lava lamp to look at does the trick. Or try making pleasant conversation about something other than the bathing experience as a way to distract from the awkward business at hand.
Paula Spencer Scott is senior editor at Caring.com, the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Paula is a 2011 MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow and writes extensively about health and caregiving. For more insights about caregiving and memory loss, see Alzheimer’s Symptoms and Difficult Behaviors: When They Happen, Why They Happen, and What You Can Do.