• Try to maintain as much of your loved one’s old bathing routine as possible. Plan the bath or shower for the time of day when the person is calmest.
  • Bathing should be done the same way at the same time. Assemble everything you need in advance and never leave the person alone.
  • Always gauge the water temperature. People with dementia may suddenly lose the ability to assess temperature.

Next Step

Dressing can be another source of confusion and stress. Learn strategies to make it easier.

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Bathing can be a major source of distress for both caregivers and their loved ones. Your loved one may feel not only confused about what to do, but also humiliated or embarrassed. Here are a few ideas to make bathing less of an ordeal.

If your loved one is shy or modest, make sure doors and curtains are closed. If necessary, keep a towel draped over his or her front and wash underneath. Have towels and a robe or clothes ready when done. Regardless of embarrassment, it is very important to check that all areas are cleaned and rashes have not developed.

Try a Sponge Bath

If problems persist, bathing may not be necessary every day. Use sponge baths or a bag of wet towels (including a soapy one) between baths.

Keep an eye not only on the water temperature but also the room temperature and the lighting. Older adults are more sensitive to temperatures. Install grab bars, non-slip mats, shower seats, and/or hand-held showerheads to reduce the likelihood of falls. For baths, use only a few inches of water and avoid bubble bath or oils that make the tub slippery.

In order to encourage your loved one to take a bath, be calm and gentle but firm. Provide guidance one step at a time. Avoid discussions about whether a bath is needed by continuing to focus on the next step. For example, say “Here is your towel — now unbutton your shirt.” If your loved one complains, “But I just showered,” answer, “Now step into the tub.”

Next Step: Dressing, like bathing, can be a source of confusion and frustration. A few simple tips can make dressing easier.

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Experts at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America have the answers to your toughest Alzheimer’s and dementia questions.

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