Bathing and dressing can be challenging times for a person with Alzheimer’s as well as the caregiver. Consider the following tips from the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center:
Shower and Tub Bathing
While some people with Alzheimer's disease don’t mind bathing, for others it is a frightening, confusing experience. Advance planning can help make bath time better for both of you.
- Plan the bath or shower for the time of day when the person is most calm and agreeable. Be consistent. Try to develop a routine. Consider soft music if it relaxes the person.
- Respect the fact that bathing is scary and uncomfortable for some people with Alzheimer's. Be gentle and respectful. Be patient and calm. Be flexible to their likes and dislikes on any given day. Allow them to feel in control and create a safe environment for them.
- Water splashed on their face may be frightening for some. It may be helpful to use a washcloth for the face. Consider dry shampoo if washing the hair in the shower or bath is not possible.
- Tell the person what you are going to do, step by step, and allow him or her to do as much as possible.
- Prepare in advance. Make sure you have everything you need ready and in the bathroom before beginning. Draw the bath ahead of time. Position the person away from any running water if this presents a problem.
- Be sensitive to the temperature. Warm up the room beforehand if necessary and keep extra towels and a robe nearby. Test the water temperature before beginning the bath or shower.
- Minimize safety risks by using a handheld showerhead, shower bench, grab bars, and nonskid bath mats. Never leave the person alone in the bath or shower.
- Try a sponge bath. Bathing may not be necessary every day. A sponge bath can be effective between showers or baths, and may be the only choice in advanced cases of dementia, or end-stages of many illnesses when an individual is bed-bound.
For someone who has Alzheimer's, getting dressed presents a series of challenges: choosing what to wear, getting some clothes off and other clothes on, and struggling with buttons and zippers. Minimizing the challenges may make a difference.
- Try to have the person get dressed at the same time each day so he or she will come to expect it as part of the daily routine.
- Encourage the person to dress himself or herself to whatever degree possible. Plan to allow extra time so there is no pressure or rush.
- Allow the person to choose from a limited selection of outfits. If he or she has a favorite outfit, consider buying several identical sets.
- Store some clothes in another room to reduce the number of choices. Keep only one or two outfits in the closet or dresser.
- Arrange the clothes in the order they are to be put on to help the person move through the process.
- Hand the person one item at a time or give clear, step-by-step instructions if the person needs prompting.
- Choose clothing that is comfortable, easy to get on and off, and easy to care for. Elastic waists and Velcro® enclosures minimize struggles with buttons and zippers.
Additional resources available for download or ordering from the National Institute on Aging are:
- The comprehensive 104-page publication Caring for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease