Your mom has mild dementia or early-stage Alzheimer’s and needs to be bathed.
Do you really feel comfortable touching her in spots you’ve never seen before?
For many caregivers, it’s a daily fact of life; and as the disease progresses, it becomes increasingly challenging. Your charge may get stuck in the tub or they may become afraid of immersion in water. How do you handle it?
Tackling such an intimate task – whether you’re a spouse or an adult child – can seem daunting, but if everyone talks about their wishes, it can work, says Mary Schulz, director of education at the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
“A father may say that he would prefer to have any personal care tasks done by a professional, like a home support worker, rather than anyone in his family. Or he may be comfortable with his son helping with bathing and toileting but no one else.”
Prepare for the bath
Make the bathroom safe and welcoming, says Keren Rosenbaum-Cooks, licensed social worker with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America in New York. People with dementia can be more sensitive to their environment. Monitor the temperature of the room and the water. Try using their favorite scented soap, or playing music.
Dealing with intimacy
In the early stages, stand outside of the bathroom and check in periodically to ask if your charge needs anything, says Rosenbaum-Cooks.
As the disease progresses, you can stand outside the shower and hand them a washcloth. If modesty is an issue, the patient can shower in their underwear or cover up with a towel or oversized washcloth.
How to coax them through
“It is preferable for the person with the illness to physically do the washing him- or herself, with the support of verbal encouragement or visual and verbal prompting,” says Rosenbaum-Cooks.
And don’t use a baby-like tone. “A person with dementia may not always understand what’s asked of them but they will pick up on tone,” she says.
If they’re unable to wash themselves, try delegating tasks. For example, a daughter can wash hair, while a personal support worker can assist with bathing and incontinence care.
Watch behavioral changes
If the person isn’t stable on their feet, they may need a shower chair or they could take a bath or have a sponge bath.
If your charge starts to grimace or push the washcloth away or suddenly refuse to bathe, check the room and water temperature. If the water is too forceful, switch to a low-pressure shower head.
Safety is key
Install grab bars and non-stick mats.
If you’re unable to bathe, call a home health care agency or an Alzheimer’s organization that offers services at no fee.
For advice, connect with AFA’s licensed social workers.