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Bathing a person who has Alzheimer’s

At some point, a person with Alzheimer’s disease will need help bathing. Helping someone with Alzheimer’s disease take a bath or shower might be one of the most difficult caregiving tasks you’ll have. Planning can help make bath time better for both of you.

Because this is a private activity, those with Alzheimer’s often do not want help. They might also feel angry or embarrassed about not being able to take care of themselves. If the person is reluctant of being bathed, follow his or her lifelong bathing habits, such as doing the bath or shower in the morning or before going to bed, to add a sense of security.

Safety tips

  • Never leave a confused or frail person alone in the tub or shower.
  • Always check the water temperature before he or she gets in the tub or shower.
  • Use a hand-held shower head.
  • Use a rubber bath mat and safety bars in the tub. Use a sturdy shower chair to prevent falls and lend support an unsteady person. (Such supplies are often available at drug stores and medical supply stores, as well as online at websites such as amazon.com.)

Before bathing

  • Get everything you need — soap, shampoo, washcloth, and towels — ready and within reach.
  • Make sure the bathroom is warm and well lighted.
  • Play soft music if that helps the person relax.
  • Make sure the water temperature is comfortable.
  • Don’t use bath oil. It can make the tub slippery and may cause urinary tract infections.
  • Be matter-of-fact and positive about bathing. Say, “It’s time for a bath now.” Don’t argue about why the person might need a bath or shower.
  • Be gentle and respectful. Tell the person what you are going to do, step by step, as you do it.

During a bath or shower

  • Allow the person with Alzheimer’s to do as much as possible without assistance. This protects his or her dignity and helps the person feel more in control.
  •  Put a towel over the person’s shoulders or lap. This helps him or her feel less exposed. Then use a sponge or washcloth to clean under the towel.
  • Distract the person by talking about something else if he or she becomes upset.
  • Give the person a washcloth to hold. This makes it less likely that he or she will try to hit you.
  • If the person has trouble getting in and out of the bathtub or shower, do a sponge bath instead.

After bathing

  • Prevent rashes or infections by patting the person’s skin with a towel.
  • Make sure the person is completely dry. Be sure to dry between folds of skin.
  • If the person is incontinent, use a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, around the rectum, vagina, or penis.

For most people, a full bath or shower two or three times a week is enough. Between full baths, a sponge bath to clean the face, hands, feet, underarms, and genitals is all you need to do every day. You might want to check out bathing products on the market that do not have to be rinsed off, as those can make bathing easier for both the person with Alzheimer’s and the caregiver. Also, washing the person’s hair in the sink with a hose attachment might be easier than doing it in the shower or bathtub.

However, if bathing becomes too difficult for you to do on your own, don’t hesitate to get professional help. Care & Comfort at Home provides such bathing services for our clients. Call us at 630-333-9262 or click here to contact us via our online form for more information about all of our services and rates.

Information courtesy of Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR)

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