8 Things You Can Do for an Alzheimer’s Patient Who Refuses to Bathe

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Many Alzheimer’s patients are afraid to bathe. For some, the cause is embarrassment of being naked in front of other people, particularly strangers. Other Alzheimer’s patients struggle with bathing because they’re afraid of drowning or slipping in the water. Still others dislike being cold when they take off their clothes. Luckily, there are some things you can do to make bathing a bit easier.

Start by trying to get to the root of the problem. Ask the person questions about their fears and pay close attention to their behavior to attempt to determine the real issue. That information should tell you which of the tips below will be most useful for your situation. Or just try them all!

1. Choose the right time of day.

If the patient tends to be sleepy or confused at particular times of the day, such as right after waking up or after a heavy meal, avoid bathing them at those times. The person will be most likely to understand your reasoning and cooperate with you when they are in their most alert and aware state.

Older Woman Sitting in Park Beside her Wheelchair Happy & Smiling

2. Take safety precautions.

It’s best to bathe a person with mobility challenges in a bathtub or shower that has bars to grab onto. If your tub or shower doesn’t have a seat, you can also place a stool in it. Just make sure the stool is stable and won’t slide, even when wet. You can purchase non-slip bathtub mats with grips on them to keep the patient and their chair from sliding around as well. Hopefully these safety features will also provide a sense of security for a person who is worried about slipping or drowning in the bath.

Disabed Access Bathroom

3. Have all your supplies close at hand.

When you’re elbow-deep in bathwater and trying to reassure a frightened elderly person that everything is going to be okay, you’re not going to want to have to leave the room to grab a towel or fresh clothing or whatever else you forgot. Plan what you’re going to need in advance so that you can be in the room with the patient for the duration of the bath.

Service  la personne - Hygine quotidienne

4. Make the bathroom inviting and comfortable.

Get the room up to a nice cozy temperature and try to give the person as much privacy as you can. Give them a robe or towel to wear before and after bathing, but also consider letting them keep a towel around their shoulders or a washcloth over private areas while in the shower to avoid that vulnerable feeling that comes with nakedness. If the person still seems overly timid, consider covering the bathroom mirror; some dementia victims have trouble recognizing their own reflections and may mistake themselves for a stranger standing in the room with them.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?