Reluctance to shower or bathe is a common challenge for those caring for loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s. You may remember a few weeks ago I asked for your advice for Carol, a family caregiver who was having a hard time getting her dad to take a shower. Here’s how she described her situation:
"My biggest care challenge is getting my father to take a shower. He just doesn't feel the need or have the energy. I do shower him when he agrees to get one, but I'm only available once a week or every other week. I'm still working. I don't think he would let a stranger help him yet. My mother is in the hospital, so our schedule is not regular, but I do hope to soon have homecare a few days a week so he will get use to someone else and allow them to help shower him. My sister is there during the week but she is not comfortable with this. Have any suggestions? Thank you."
I received an overwhelming response from both family and professional caregivers who have faced this issue and had suggestions for Carol. Thank you! As I went through the emails, I saw some common themes among the responses. I pulled a few of them to share so everyone might benefit by learning new ways to approach this situation.
Accept Shower Substitutes, like an "Airplane Bath"
"As long as there aren’t any issues, I think a daily shower isn't a must…In between showers, Nell would take ‘airplane baths’: under the wings, hood and the tail end. She would laugh at it."
"I have a wonderful little lady in my care now who grew up in a time before showers. She hates water and will not take a shower. Forget redirection, pleading, begging....not effective. So we got creative. She has always ‘washed up’ at the sink. There is a wonderful product called foaming no rinse cleanser. Best stuff since toilet paper. It contains wonderful emollients for the skin, kills odors and doesn't have to be rinsed off. If Dad is capable of washing himself up, invest in a bottle and give it a try."
Ready, Set, Shower!
"I have everything ready in the shower (i.e., clothes, towels, etc.), and then as I'm talking with the client, I generally get around and say, 'Ok, it's time for our shower, we'll make it quick like the last time.'"
"Finding out why they don't like to shower may be difficult to ascertain, but it will be helpful to know in order to be understanding and, perhaps, aide in cooperation. Maybe they get cold....so, assurance that you will have the room warm (if possible), and have a hair dryer so they will be thoroughly dried may help."
"Play music he/she likes in the background."
The Power of Choice
"I had the same issue with getting my 93-year-old mom to shower. I use a sales technique that my brother taught me: Ask whether they'd like to take a shower 'before breakfast' or 'after breakfast,' giving them a choice so they feel like they have some control over their life. In other words, give them a choice rather than asking them if they'd like to take a shower or suggesting they take a shower. Works every time for me."
"You can get the doctor to write a prescription that says he has to take a shower every Tuesday and Saturday or something like that."
Ease Into It
"I am in a similar position and I have found that giving the person a warm washcloth with soap for his/her face helps, and if they are reluctant to use it, then offer to help wipe away food or something from their face. Having survived this, they may agree to having their neck and arms etc. washed. With this accomplished, give a clean cloth to wash their private area, while covering them to protect privacy. It should be relatively easy after that. I usually offer a back rub at this point and take the opportunity to wash their back, right down to their legs before applying lotion."
Give an Incentive
"I would say, 'Let's get your shower done and then we will go for a ride (his favorite thing to do),' or 'When we are done with your shower we will have some ice cream.'"
Enlist Backup Help
"If he's uncomfortable with his daughter giving him the shower, see about a male caregiver to help."
"So my recommendation is find someone who appropriately interacts with your father and keep them forever. Dementia patients do not like change and will only take directions from those they trust. It has taken a huge burden off of me and given me some time to actually visit and talk to my dad about the good old days."
While these were just a few suggestions, I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming response. I hope this gives new and experienced caregivers some additional ideas about how to approach this situation. If you are still struggling in this area, please know help is available. I recommend getting in touch with your local Home Instead Senior Care office to enlist the help of a professional CAREGiver trained to assist with bathing and dementia care.
Looking for more advice in this area? The Help for Alzheimer's Families website has an entire section devoted to bathing and hygiene tips to help caregivers through a variety of situations they may encounter.