Aug 31, 2011

Alzheimer's Bath and Dotty

If you find yourself trying to cajole, shame, or force a person living with Alzheimer's into taking a shower, go stand in the corner of the room.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I read Carole Larkin's article -- How to Get An Alzheimer's Patient to Bathe -- with great interest. Excellent advice for sure.

You might be surprised to learn that I found myself laughing at myself. Why? I was flashing back to the years when I had the dreaded problem of getting my mother to take a shower.

Please note, I said years. It took me years to figure out how to get her to take a shower without a hitch -- most of the time.

Let me start by saying, back at the beginning my mother was meaner than a junkyard bulldog. So whenever I said shower, she more or less told me where to go.

Like most "rookie" Alzheimer's caregivers, I tried to reason with my mother. This was long before I finally understood that I had a better chance of reasoning with a manikin, then I did with Dotty. You really can't reason with someone suffering from Alzheimer's.

I would say, Dotty time to take a shower. Dotty says, I just took a shower. Bob says, no you didn't (big mistake).

Sometimes Dotty would say I don't need a shower. I would then try to explain to her why she needed s shower. Big mistake? Not really. Waste of time and effort, really.

Sometimes I would try and explain how nice and good she would feel once she took a shower. Seemed logical to me. Dotty still wouldn't take a shower.

If you have the time you can tell us some of the things you tried, or some of the responses you received while trying. If you put them in the New Comment area below, I want to apologize in advance for laughing. Its okay to laugh in Alzheimer's World.

Now for a couple of tips.

Don't waste your time trying to "reason" with a person living with Alzheimer's.  Stop trying to talk them into taking a bath/shower. It might take you a while to accept this simple truth. A person with Alzheimer's can't reason. Let me give you the short reason why. Their brain is sick. As a result, they don't reason things out the way you and I do. In fact, if you give them too much information its like drowning them. Would you want to take a shower when you felt like you were drowning?

While you are wasting your time trying to logically explain the need for a shower, more likely than not the patient will retreat deeper into Alzheimer's World (AW). If they get too deep into Alzheimer's World it will take quite a while before they come back into the part of AW that you can reach. Even then, you are going to need to cough up some ice cream, potato chips, or some other positive reinforcement bribe before you get back on track. By that time, you probably forgot they need a shower. Or, become so adverse to the idea that you don't want to try. At this point you could try this. Take two showers. One for you and one for them.

Don't try to cajole, shame, or force an Alzheimer's patient into bathing. They will end up digging in, meaning they won't do it. You will end up frustrated, disconcerted, bent of shape, or worse. This means the next part of your day is not going to go well, as you will either be feeling guilty or giving off a bad "vibe".  Bad vibe means bad day.

If you find yourself trying to cajole, shame, or force a person living with Alzheimer's into taking a shower, go stand in the corner of the room. Put your nose into the area where the two walls come together. If your nose is to small and it doesn't reach the wall, stick your tongue out and touch it to the wall. Don't move. Keep your nose or tongue attached to the wall. Stay there until you convince yourself cajoling, shaming, and forcing is never going to work.

Don't worry. After you do this enough times it will get easier. When you get ready to cajole, shame, or force just look over at the wall. See the spot you left with your nose or tongue? This should be enough, just looking over, to remind you this will never work. If not, get back over there.

Now, what can you do to solve this problem?

Try this. Mom we are going to take a shower and then we are going to do something you love to do. You have to fill in the part where you tell them what you are going to do after the shower.

Notice, you used the word -- WE. Doesn't your the person living with dementia love to follow you around? Or, don't they want to know where you are when they can't see you? If so, leverage the WE. The bath/shower is now a WE kinda thing. Not a YOU kinda thing.

PS. You are not going to take the shower with them. They take a shower and then you take your shower.

The shower is going to lead to something the Alzheimer's patient enjoys. Like food, or an activity. A WE kinda thing.

Now here is another tip. You have to establish a pattern. The shower should take place at the same time of day every day if possible. I suggest you put out the effort to try and make it an every day thing. It is easier to establish an everyday pattern (or routine), than an every once in a while pattern. You should fit the shower into the every day activity. So it comes right after something, and right before something. The same something every day if possible.

Finally, getting a person to take a shower/bath should be a good and wonderful thing. Not a chore.

Believe it or not, a person living from Alzheimer's will feel better after taking a shower. Just like you and me. Of course, you are going to tell them how wonderful they look, and remind them how great it feels after taking the shower (remember, you both took a shower). You are going to smile at them while you think to yourself, thank goodness. The patient will notice that you feel really happy, and that they made you really happy. Then they get all happy. Shower leads to happiness. Another pattern.

Here are a few other tips. I turn the water on first. Then I soap up the wash cloth. Then I lead my mother over to the shower and ask her to stick out her hand and feel the water. I ask her if the temperature is okay (I know it is because I set it at the same place every time -- pattern, no guess work). Then I help her get in.

I stand outside and remind her to get all the cracks. The narly places. I remind her to put her head under the water so I can put the special stuff in her hair that makes it look so nice and shiny.

We do it exactly the same way every time. Well except for when I jump in and give her the super duper, squeaky clean hair wash and shower. Like the super duper car wash.

To reiterate. Dotty refused to take a shower for about 2 years. Finally, we created a nice pattern and she started taking the shower.

Now? She actually says once in a while, I have to take a shower. This from a woman that was not only refusing to take a shower, but was afraid of the water seven years ago.

You choose. Its up to you.

Try relaxing and perfecting your method. If you are having a problem then you can assume it is going to take some time to "fix" the problem.

Its not that they don't want to take a shower, its that their brain doesn't work like yours and mine.

Learn More.

Communicating in Alzheimer's World

What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Learning How to Communicate with Someone Suffering From Alzheimer's Disease

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

What is Dementia?

Alzheimer's World -- Trying to Reconnect with Someone Suffering from Alzheimer's Disease

Dementia and the Eight Types of Dementia

Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The ARR knowledge base contains more than 5,000 articles. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.
Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room