My husband was a cleanliness fanatic. During the summer he’d take three showers a day and think nothing of it. But he, like many people with mid-to late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, couldn’t remember how to wash his hair or wash his body parts. Some Alzheimer’s patients are embarrassed to undress in front of anyone, even if that person is their spouse. Some people get cold easily, and others become afraid of the water.
Health care professionals recommend that seniors, especially those living in an assisted living facility, get showered or bathed at least twice a week. It’s important to maintain a personal hygiene routine in order to reduce the possibility of urinary tract infection and to maintain healthy skin.
Bathing someone with dementia can get tricky. Here are some helpful recommendations.
• Safety first! Buy a shower seat at a medical supply store so your loved one can sit down. This eliminates fear of falling. Install a hand bar to grab onto, and a hand-held showerhead with a long hose and adjustable height. If necessary, install a shower ramp if your care partner has difficulty moving in and out of the shower.
• Keep the room brightly lit and open the curtain and shade.
• Make bathing fun. Propose this: “Let’s both get spruced up and have a tea party,” or “Let’s both get cleaned up and then we’ll go out for lunch (or dinner).”
• Spritz the bathroom with a relaxing essential oil such as chamomile, lavender, clary sage, marjoram or spikenard.
• Make sure the bathroom is warm and not chilly.
• If you can, splurge on a towel warmer. There’s nothing like getting wrapped inside a warm, terry cloth towel or robe. Towel warmers start at about $155, and are available at Home Depot. You can also put pajamas in the dryer, and have them ready to slip into. Delightful!
• Put on some relaxing classical or New Age music.
• Find a shampoo and soap fragrance that your loved one especially likes.
• Give verbal cues so there are no surprises. “I’m going to wash your hair now. Keep your eyes closed,” etc.
• If privacy and modesty are major issues, hire a skilled person of the same sex, from an accredited agency, to bathe your loved one.
• Use a powder shampoo and sponge baths when necessary.
• Try to maintain a sense of humor, and remember, “This too shall pass.