Bathing is often the most difficult personal care activity that caregivers face. Because it is such an intimate experience, people with dementia may perceive it as unpleasant or threatening. In turn, they may act in disruptive ways.
People with dementia may resist, scream or hit during bathing. Such behavior often occurs because the person doesn’t remember what bathing is for or doesn’t have the patience to endure such unpleasant parts of the task like lack of modesty, being cold or other discomforts. Loss of independence and privacy can be very difficult for the person with dementia. The disease also may increase sensitivity to water temperature or pressure.
Do not take disruptive behaviors personally. Remain flexible, patient and calm, and try the tips on this page.
When bathing a person with dementia, allow the person to do as much as possible, but be ready to assist when needed. Assess his or her ability to:
- Find the bathroom.
- See clearly.
- Keep balance without fear of falling.
- Reach and stretch arms.
- Remember steps in the bathing process, follow cues or examples.
- Know how to use different products (soap, shampoo, washcloth).
- Sense water temperature.
- Gather bathing supplies such as towels, washcloths, shampoo and soap before you tell the person that it’s time to bathe.
- Make sure the room is warm.
- Use large beach towels or bath blankets that completely wrap around the person for privacy and warmth.
- Have a washcloth ready to cover the person’s eyes to prevent stinging from water or shampoo.
- Make sure that soap and shampoo are easy to reach. Try using hotel-sized plastic containers of shampoo.
- Pad the shower seat and other cold or uncomfortable surfaces with towels.
- Fill the tub (only use 2 to 3 inches of water) and then assess the person’s reaction to getting into the water. It may be better to fill the tub
after the person is seated.
- Try using a hand-held shower head and make sure the spray isn’t too intense.
- Monitor the water temperature. The person may not sense when the water is dangerously hot or may resist bathing if the water is too cool.