Bathing is a simple everyday task for most people. But for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, even ordinary routines become increasingly difficult—and bath time is no exception. Some individuals with dementia might forget to bathe, for example, or simply refuse to practice good hygiene. While bathing can be a highly stressful experience for those with dementia—as well as for their caregivers—you can take steps to make bath time less trying.

What makes bathing so challenging?

Memory loss associated with dementia can make it hard for individuals to keep track of their bathing schedules. Some might also forget the sequence of steps involved, or confuse hot and cold water faucets. Needing to be reminded to bathe—or how to bathe, for that matter—can cause embarrassment or anxiety.

Feelings of helplessness and fear are also common at bath time. Someone with dementia who is under your care could fear falling in the tub or shower, or be uncomfortable undressing with you in the room.

Your own discomfort about helping someone bathe could add to that person’s anxiety. If you are outwardly stressed or embarrassed, the individual in your care will sense it—and that, in turn, will likely add to their uneasiness.

Ways to make bath time better

One way to combat bath-time stress is to control internal environmental factors. Ensuring that the room temperature is comfortable and keeping lights low help create a calm and relaxing setting. Remember to test the water temperature to be certain it’s not too hot or too cold before allowing the person in your care to enter the tub or shower.

It’s helpful to be direct when raising the subject of bathing. Avoid asking questions such as, “Would you like to take a bath?” Instead, try stating, “Your bath is ready.” That simplicity, along with giving helpful directions during the bathing process, will eliminate confusion.

Of course, there are times when bathing is an enjoyable experience. On those occasions, allow the person time to relax and relish the moment—and, who knows, the next bath time could be eagerly anticipated.

Bathing safety

In addition to being frightening or uncomfortable for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia, bathing can become dangerous when proper precautions are not taken.

Placing non-slip bathmats inside and outside the bathtub can lower the risk of slipping and falling. Shower seats help prevent falls while lowering the physical energy expended when bathing.

Beyond taking precautions to prevent falling, be sure to remove potentially dangerous objects—such as razors and nail clippers—from around the tub. Also, avoid filling the tub with more than four inches of water because if it’s too full, the risk of a bathing injury increases significantly.

Certainly, all safety precautions are important when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. However, the most critical thing to remember is to never leave a dementia patient alone in the bath.