Getting an Alzheimer's patient to shower can be difficult. In order to accomplish this mission you will need to learn how to be a guide, how to use bright light, and how to use positive reinforcement.
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room
Thousands of caregivers and dementia professionals have used these techniques and they work.
My mother usually resisted when I asked her to take a shower - for years. When she occasionally said something other than NO, I looked to the heavens as if it was a reward.
Learn More - 5 Tips, How to get an Alzheimer's Patient to Shower
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It took me quite a long time to figure out what to do and how to properly motivate my mom so she would take the shower without resistance.
1. Constant positive reinforcement about the positive effects of being clean.
My mother would usually take her shower around 3 in the afternoon. I gave up trying to get her to take her show in the morning because she wouldn't do it.
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During the course of the day I would start setting the stage for the shower early in the morning and throughout the day.
An hour before her shower, I would take my shower and then come out with my head still wet and my face clean shaven and start extolling how great it felt to be clean.
I would get my mother to touch my face and show her how smooth it was. As she was touching my face I would say - smooth a few times.
Eventually she would say smooth, or "smooth as a baby's butt". This would give both of us a good laugh.
I would also get her to touch my wet hair. Then I would say - clean. I would say clean a few times as she touched it.
I would then tell her how great it felt to be clean. Positive reinforcement about the virtues of being all nice and clean.
Please Note - This was designed to fix the idea of a shower in her brain. All of this was designed to set the stage for Dotty's shower that was coming soon.
I was trying to set a pattern leading up to the shower, and then a specific pattern when it came time to take the shower.
Learn More - Changing Patterns of Behavior in Dementia Patients
Establishing patterns is one of the only ways I discovered that worked when it came to establishing consistent behavior with someone living with Alzheimer's disease.
I am convinced that trying to do the same thing, at the same time, every day is very helpful in Alzheimer's caregiving.
2. Prior to the shower I tried to make sure my mother was sitting in bright light.
I would sit her next to a window - in the kitchen usually do the trick. I learned that bright light can be mood altering when used effectively with dementia patients.
Put it this way - bright light, bright mom.
Learn More - The Importance of Bright Light in Dementia Care
Before shower time, I always talked to and engaged my mother. I would resist the temptation to sneak up on my mother and then announce - time to take a shower. This doesn't work, and it never worked for me.
Singing can be a good way of engaging a dementia patient and getting their attention. I learned my mother was always willing to sing Shine on Harvest Moon.
It became even easier after we obtained our repeat parrot Harvey. Now the three of us could sing together. This usually delighted Dotty.
I understand that Alzheimer's patients often say NO when asked to take a shower. Sometimes my mother would say, "I already took my shower". This was amusing because she was still sitting in her pajamas.
Rule to live by. Never correct an Alzheimer's patient if they say they already took their shower.
Rule to live by, never try to explain to them the importance of taking a shower - like good hygiene.
Ever hear the saying "loose lips sink ships"? Explanations and lots of words will sink your caregiving effort every time.
3. When it comes time to take the shower think of yourself as a guide.
You are going to guide your loved one to the shower by taking their hand. Of course, you will already have given them a nice smile, and received a nice smile back before you start to take action.
The weapons in your caregiver arsenal. The smile. Your hand. And the most important of them all - Positive reinforcement.
Here is one simple way to get someone living with Alzheimer's to take a shower in my opinion. I learned this as a freshman in college in Psychology 101. Let's call this Pavlov's dog and the shower.
How to use the zinger. The shower must always lead to something the dementia patient wants or enjoys. In the case of Pavlov's dogs they rang a bell when the dogs would eat. Eventually, they would just ring the bell and the dogs would salivate. This is known as a conditioned response.
Learn More - The Importance of Positive Thinking in Dementia Care
When I got mom up for the shower I wouldn’t say a word. I would stick my hand out and wait for her to take it. And away we would go.
When she asked where we were going I would hold her hand and walk her toward the bathroom.
At this point I fire in the zinger. After you take your shower mom you will get a nice snack.
I usually said potato chips because they were her favorites. Positive reinforcement before the shower, BIG positive enforcement after the shower. For many of you, ice cream or chocolate should do the trick.
These tips are very helpful - 5 Tips, How to get an Alzheimer's Patient to Shower
Two points here. One, mom gets the positive reinforcement after every shower, the reward so to speak - the potato chips or ice cream.
Two, I am involved with mom all the way. I don't say you need a shower and then wait for her to go take the shower. I assist her right up to the door of the shower.
You have to be actively involved with a person living Alzheimer's in everything they do. Once you get the hang of being actively involved you will find and learn - that it gets easier to guide your loved one and get them to do what you would like them to do.
Learn More - Alzheimer's Care Be a Guide
Resist the temptation to be a parent. You are dealing with an adult with dementia, not a child.
Resist the temptation to be the boss. Instead be a guide and lead with a smile and your hand, palm turned up. Offer your hand to your loved one.
Always think positive and endeavor to find new and better ways to introduce positive reinforcement into the equation.
If you want your loved one to take a shower every day establish a pattern. Make sure the communication and activity leading up to the shower are positive and that you are engaged with the patient before guiding them.
Extol the virtues of being clean and how wonderful it feels. Get all happy about it - show your enthusiasm.
Make sure the immediate aftermath of the shower is positive. Use potato chips, or ice cream, or a trip out the door (this really worked well for me).
Don't worry about being so happy you can't see straight. Once you get this technique down you will be so happy you won't believe what it feels like.
Don't worry, you can do it. Might take some practice and patience, but it will happen.
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Publisher Alzheimer's Reading Room
Author Bob DeMarco
Title: How to Inspire a Dementia Patient to Shower
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver.
Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room