Strategies To Overcome Resistance to Bathing for a Loved One With Dementia

Implement these tips to help overcome resistance to bathing for a loved one with dementia.

When a loved one has dementia, there can be a number of challenging behaviors that must be managed creatively. A resistance to bathing is one such behavior. Once a welcomed way to start the day or a relaxing way to end the day, bathing may become an activity that is met with discomfort, embarrassment, and fear.
An unwillingness to bathe is stressful for both the family caregiver and the individual with dementia. Attempts to encourage bathing may dissolve into arguments, hostility, and crying.

Is Resistance to Bathing Common For People With Dementia?

It's important to know that a resistance to bathing is not uncommon in a person with dementia. In addition to feeling uncomfortable with the need for assistance with such an intimate activity, the person may not recognize a need for bathing, may find bathing a cold, uncomfortable experience, or their depth perception may have diminished, making it frighting to step into the bathtub.
The good news is that there are a variety of strategies that can help make a loved one feel comfortable and secure before, during, and after the bathing process. To help family caregivers overcome a loved one’s refusal to bathe, American, Advocate and Whitsyms In-Home Care offer the following tips to restore calm.

Top Tips For Overcoming Resistance to Bathing When a Loved One Has Dementia

Prep the space.

  • Gather all of the supplies needed before attempting to get a loved one with dementia to bathe. This includes shampoo, soap and any other necessary items like sponges or washcloths and towels. Consider using soap that is lavender-scented to help encourage relaxation and shampoo that won’t sting if it gets in the eyes.
  • Ensure that the bathroom is a comfortable temperature and use a space heater if necessary to make sure the room is adequately warm.
  • Have plenty of large, fluffy towels or a terry cloth robe on hand that can wrap completely around the person. This not only helps keep the individual warm, but it also helps provide privacy and a feeling of security.
  • Play relaxing music and use an essential oil diffuser or scented candles to create a calming, spa-like atmosphere.

Use positive reinforcement and don’t argue.

  • Logic and reason don’t work when it comes to encouraging a loved one with dementia to bathe. Instead, use short, simple sentences explaining each step of the process.
  • Help the person associate bathing with a positive activity that occurs once the shower or bath is complete. For example, offer a favorite snack or suggest a favorite activity only after bathing. This reinforcement can help a loved one with dementia link bathing with something they look forward to and enjoy.
  • Use a calm, soothing tone when speaking with the person and say “we” instead of “you.” This helps establish the feeling that this is a relaxing activity that is being done together rather than something they are going through alone.

Ensure that the bathtub or shower is safe and accessible.

  • Use a non-slip mat or install non-skid strips inside the tub or shower, as well as outside, to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Have grab bars securely installed to help increase safety.
  • Use a shower chair or tub bench that can adjust to different heights, allowing the individual to sit while bathing.

Use a hand-held showerhead to minimize fear.

  • The overhead spray from a traditional showerhead can induce fear in a person with dementia.
  • A hand-held showerhead helps to control when and where water touches the person and also allows them to see where the water is coming from.
  • Always test the water temperature before it comes into contact with the person.
  • Once the water is at a comfortable temperature, explain that you’re going to put water on their feet, hands, etc.
  • If the spray of the water or sound of the water running is especially bothersome, use the shut-off valve on the hand-held showerhead to stop the water while the individual is soaping up.

Engage the individual in the process.

  • Because there are so many steps involved in bathing, the process may feel overwhelming for a person with dementia. Minimize these feelings by involving the person in the process. For example, ask the individual to hold the soap or shampoo.
  • Allow for as much independence and control as possible during the bathing process. Encourage the individual to do something on their own, but offer cues to help, for example, “take this soap in your hand and rub it on your arm.”
  • Use encouraging words and actions and never make the person rush.
  • Be respectful of modesty and feelings of vulnerability and offer towels so that the individual can cover up while bathing.

How Can In-Home Care Help With Resistance to Bathing?

Another option to help minimize the stress associated with bathing is to partner with a referred care provider from American, Advocate or Whitsyms In-Home Care. With specialized training and a compassionate approach to dementia care, the referred care providers use a variety of techniques to ensure each person in their care is always treated with dignity and respect.

In addition to assisting with bathing and other personal care needs, referred care providers also offer friendly companionship, memory care activities, respite care for family caregivers, and much more. With a focus on maintaining independence safely, each plan of care is specially customized to help individuals live life to the fullest.

To learn more about all the ways in-home care services can help, contact us today at the location nearest you.

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