Bathing and Alzheimer’s Disease

When it happens

During mild dementia and increasing thereafter

Why it happens

Memory loss makes the person unable to keep track of (or, eventually, care) about bathing. Even if it’s remembered out of habit, there may be confusion about the sequence of steps involved — so it’s easier just not to do it.

Some people avoid bathing because they feel juvenile, anxious, or defensive when asked or reminded about bathing. It becomes more pleasant for them to avoid the subject completely.

What you can do
  • Stick to a consistent bathing routine. Make it the same time the person has always bathed (first thing in the morning, right before bed).
  • Don’t remind or even mention how long it’s been since the last cleanup. Instead of arguing, proceed with bath preparations.
  • Skip asking, “Did you shower?” or “Would you like to shower now?” Get everything ready and invite the person in: “Look, your bath is ready. I know how you love your evening bath.”
  • Try leading the person to the bath unexpectedly, on your way to doing something else. Or lead the way to the bathroom but without talking about a bath.
  • Have everything ready so you don’t leave the person alone, as he or she may give up.
  • Don’t worry about a full daily bath or shower. Bathe weekly and “top and tail” (clean face, genitals) as best you can the other days.
  • If you find bathing difficult or concerns about privacy make this a tense time for the two of you, consider hiring an aide who can come to do this task two or three times a week. If hiring a professional isn’t in the cards, maybe there’s a better family member for the job, such a son who’ll bathe a father.caring.com
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