Getting a person living with Alzheimer's or dementia to take a shower or bath is one of the most common problems we face as caregivers.
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room
One of the earliest problems I faced with my mother, Dotty, was getting her to take a shower.
In the beginning, I would typically make a common Alzheimer's caregiver mistake - I would try to convince my mom to take the shower.
This usually resulted in me trying to convince her that she needed a shower, the importance of the shower for good health (hygiene), or trying to convince her she would "stink" if she didn't take a shower.
No matter what explanation or cajoling I tried it didn't work. Dotty would usually get angry, and use one of her favorite words - bulls***.
I can laugh about it now. But, I can also assure you that it didn't seem funny at the time.
Do you have this problem? Or, if you solved the problem, can you laugh about it now?
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The feeling of accomplishment once you overcome this problem, and once you have your loved one all "squeaky" clean, is really quite wonderful. Look at it this way. Would you want to be all smelly?
More important, if you don't get the shower in at least twice a week the odds of the dreaded urinary tract infection goes up exponentially. Do you really want to deal with that?
Readers did laugh when I first wrote this - "it is easier, in my opinion, to get a person living with dementia to take a shower every day, then it is to get them to take a shower twice a week".
The importance of routine in Alzheimer's care can never be underestimated.
5 Tips for Getting a Person Living with Dementia to Take a Shower.
1. No More Blah Blah Blah
Forget all the wordy explanations. If a person living with dementia can't remember three simple words after a minute or two, they are not going to understand or remember your long winded explanation of why they should or need to take a shower.
When the time comes, walk up to them slowly, get their attention, smile and wait until you receive a smile back. Then stick out your hand, palm up, and wait for them to take it.
Be a guide, not an orator.
My mother would ask, as she took my hand, where are we going? I would usually say something like to have some fun. I don't care what you say, but limit it to 5 words or less.
The goal in this first tip is to get your loved one in motion and heading in the right direction.
2. Get the Bathroom all Nice and Warm
I noticed that when my mother took her cloths off she would say every single time - I'm cold, I'm freezing. Now I wasn't cold, I was hot. We had to keep our home at 78 degrees or Dotty would say, I'm freezing. I adjusted to that problem.
The tip. Turn the shower on and adjust the temperature of the water to - just right for a shower.
Close the bathroom door so the room warms up. You know that nice feeling you get when it is nice and toasty in the bathroom. Make sure you close the door in the bathroom, and then go back to step one.
3. The Hook
As you are leading the person living with dementia to the shower start layering on the positive reinforcement.
I would usually say something like, "you know what mom, lets take our shower now, then we will have a nice snack (potato chips, ice cream), and then we will go out and have some fun.
Dotty would usually focus on the fun. Oh sure she would say. What fun? Notice here she never balked at taking the shower.
I would shift the conversation back to the snack - food.
When applying to the hook don't forget to use the word "WE". Always use the word "WE". We are going to take a shower.
No, I didn't take the shower with Dotty. I got her all showered up, and then I took my own shower, real quick, while she munched on potato chips and talked to Harvey.
Make sure you are not only being positive to your loved one, but that you are developing your own positive attitude and retraining your brain to believe that once the shower is finished you just accomplished your mission.
Accomplished something important that will hopefully cut down on illness and the dreaded UTI.
4. Alzheimer's Patients Don't Like Water
It is my belief that most Alzheimer's patients don't like water. I think in some sense they are afraid of water.
When it comes to the shower, the water is shooting down from above and I don't think they can see. In other words, it is invisible to them.
How would you feel if something invisible started hitting you in the head?
You would probably freak out. Get it?
Make sure you help the dementia patient into the side of the shower so the water is not hitting them in the head. Then, take their hand and place it under the water until they adjust to the water temperature.
Then you can tell them to get under the water. Hand them the soap and wash cloth and encourage them to start washing themselves. Hopefully, at this juncture in the endeavor long term memory kicks in and they start washing themselves.
Let them shower and wash themselves as long as possible. Don't do it for them until you have no choice.
One thing I learned is that coaching an Alzheimer's patient to do something really works well. It worked well for me in this situation.
5. The Gnarly Body Parts
There is no easy way to say or describe this, but here goes.
There are 2 gnarly parts that you will have to deal with. You might have to do the one in the back, or you will sooner or later.
You can usually coach your loved one to do the one in the front. Don't forget, I am a guy and this was my mom.
Dotty cooperated almost all the way. Thank goodness.
One way or the other, you have to make sure the gnarly parts get cleaned.
Does the description above deserve a PG rating?
For additional tips, advice and insight you might want to read this related articles.
Alzheimer's and the Dreaded Shower
How to Get An Alzheimer's Patient to Take a Bath (by Carole Larkin)
Dementia Shower and the Use of Positive Thinking
Is Water Invisible and Disconcerting to Dementia Patients?
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