It seems that bathing does not come naturally for anyone. If you are a parent then you remember bath time with your baby. Not once did that newborn hop in the bath tub, lather up with soap and declare they were clean and ready to start their day. Well, it seems that the same thing happens with a patient with dementia. I am not going to pretend that I understand this nor am I going to give you the key to solve this problem. What I can do is tell you what I have learned through reading, watching videos and attending a support group.
I am sure that you have noticed that the simplest task can become very complicated for a person with dementia. Think about all the steps that you have to do to take a shower: go in the bathroom, turn on the water and get the water temperature just right, take off your clothes, get in the shower (without following), locate the soap and lather up, locate the washcloth and scrub away, put the soap back in the soap dish, rinse off, put away the washcloth, turn off the water, get out of the shower (without falling), grab the towel, dry off, put the towel away and get dressed! WOW! That is a lot of steps. And to think we think a shower is relaxing.
So how do you make your loved one take a shower? We have tried many things. Some work and some don’t. Some work today and not tomorrow. Trial and error and as I mentioned earlier little white lies become very helpful.
My mom has told my dad that he needs to smell nice because they are going out or someone is coming over. Someone in our support group told the story of a retired nurse that had Alzheimer’s and the staff would tell her she had to make a presentation to the new nurses. Some have told their loved one that it is a community rule that everyone take a shower each day.
I have also been told that a person with dementia might be more likely to take a shower if someone is in the bathroom with them. This can be tricky with a small bathroom and you have to consider the person’s privacy. My parents live at Brookdale and the bathrooms are much smaller than their enormous bathroom at their house. I suggested that my mom tell dad to use the bathroom connected to their bedroom. The door has been removed from that bathroom so that my mom’s wheelchair can easily enter the bathroom. My dad can shower in the bathroom while she waits on him in the bedroom. That way she can look out for him and they can talk while he cleans up for the day.
Another thing to consider, do they really need a bath every day? Maybe and maybe not. You can also change the pattern for showering. I know that I said routines are important but if dad does not want to shower in the morning then try again in the afternoon or before bed. You just have to play it by ear.
BUT . . . be sure they bathe at some point. My smart father has figured out that if he does not want to take a bath he can go in the bathroom, close the door and the run the water without ever getting in! He is so smart! But we are onto him now!!