Bathing and personal hygiene of their loved one has long been a struggle for caregivers. If their loved one has dementia, this issue may further become one riddled with fear and trepidation. While bathing can be difficult for the elderly, it is necessary for skin cleansing and infection control as well as providing an opportunity for the caregiver to inspect the senior’s skin. Socially, a bath controls body odor, enhances social interactions and provides positive touch. But the question remains, “How can we make shower time less of a strain on your personal relationship?”
§ Communicate Tell your loved what you are going to do before proceeding. “Mom, I am going to help you get undressed for the shower.” Approach from the front and maintain eye contact. If he/she becomes violent, back off and try another time.
§ Schedule Set up a bath schedule and use a calendar. Find a time of day where he/she is less likely to have outbursts. Use incentives to get him/her to bathe, such as telling your loved one that they must bathe before a favorite TV show or a favorite dessert. Once or twice a week is sufficient for seniors if they are not incontinent and keep the genital area clean.
§ Atmosphere Make it like a spa experience. Dim the lights and play relaxing, instrumental music. Use scented soaps/lotions, heated towels (use heated towel bars/containers or pluck them from the dryer) and a warm fuzzy bathrobe.
§ Temperature Turn up the heat one to two hours before the bath to keep the bathrooms warm. Seniors are often cold when we are wearing short sleeves. If there is tile in the bathroom, cover them with a plush bath rug or carpet (watch for falls). If you have an overhead heater, turn that on. Wear a t-shirt so you’re not overheated!
§ Safety Make sure the bathroom is safe - use bath chairs, non-slip mats/appliqués and grab bars. If the senior doesn’t feel safe, he or she will not agree to bathe.
§ Equipment Install a hand-held shower. The water spray in the face is distressing as often happens when sitting in a shower chair. The hand-held shower also allows the warm water to pour over them as they wash resulting in a greater sense of control.
§ Modesty Allow your loved one to do as much bathing independently as possible. Keep the doors closed and curtains drawn. Always cover the genitals with a washcloth or keep a light gown on the body that is not being bathed.
If your loved one still refuses to bathe, use alternative methods. Use no-rinse washcloths and dry shampoo. Try a “weekly bath” with everyday washing one part of her body using washcloths. For example, Monday wash her arms, armpits and back, Tuesday, feet and legs. Ask her to take that body part out of her clothes one at a time to wash, dry and then switch. It takes longer but your loved one may be more open to this. Sometimes you could time it during a trip to the washroom and use that as an excuse to clean the genitals. Use powders, body sprays, etc to help cover the body odor when you just can’t get them to bathe.
And lastly, many home care agencies offer a bathing service so that you don’t have to do the “dirty work”. Hire them and then go out for a cup of coffee to de-stress. Home & Hearth Caregivers offer a variety of packages that include bathing. Call us at 800-349-0663 for your complimentary, no obligation home assessment.