Tips: Bathing Issues & Dementia
Bathing: A Common Challenge for Dementia Family Caregivers ComForCare’s DementiaWise program provides families with useful caregiving strategies. Assisting loved ones living with dementia with activities as personal as bathing can be challenging. Foremost, they may not fully understand the situation, including who you are or how you’re trying to help them. Sensory changes and/or neuro-psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety and agitation may also come into play. Luckily, DementiaWise is herewith evidence-based tips for a better bathing experience. DementiaWise Tips for Better Bathing Check Yourself. Before you start the bathing activity, take a deep breath and relax. This will help your loved one feel more at ease. Make a Meaningful Connection. Make a friendly connection before you ask your loved one to bathe. Connecting emotionally may be as simple as enjoying each other’s company fora few minutes. Once a connection is established, it’s time to present the bathing activity. Consider the Environment. Bathing can happen in a variety of places in the home. A change in environment may create a more positive experience. For example, your loved one may prefer sitting at the sink versus using the shower. Consider the following:
• Add lighting and clear pathways • Turn heat up for more comfort • Gather needed items before beginning • Use their preferred products • Limit distractions during the bathing • Cover mirrors if they confuse or upset your loved one • Play music they enjoy
Use Effective Communication Strategies. The way you communicate can also make a difference in winning your loved one’s participation. Try the following:
• Ask for their help. Break the activity down into smaller steps, and give short instructions, one at a time. • Use familiar, preferred language. For example, “I’ll help you freshen up,” instead of, “You need a bath.” • Give more visual cues. Use your body and objects to demonstrate the steps of the activity, and show your loved one what you want them to do. • Use social chitchat to maintain a positive emotional connection. This type of conversation may reveal more of your loved one’s preferences or fuel new ideas. • If your loved one resists, stop, back off, and try a different strategy in your next attempt.
Put Them on the Team. Form a partnership with your loved one by doing things with them rather than for or to them. Ask them to show you how they prefer to bathe. Encourage them to do the parts of the activity they can for themselves. Allowing them to do as much as they can communicates that they still have the ability to participate in self-care. More Tips to Consider There is no guarantee that your first attempt(s) at helping your loved one bathe will be successful. An individual living with dementia may not realize they need your help. If they decline help, step back, and consider the following: Show Respect. Use your loved one’s preferred name, talk to them like an adult, speak in a friendly tone of voice, and pay attention to their responses. If they make a choice, honor it. Do not present an option if you cannot follow through. It’s okay to take no for an answer. Fallback, wait sometime, and try something else on your next attempt. Think Outside the Box. When it comes to helping individuals bathe, there is no such thing as one formula that works the first time, every time. There is no magic wand or “quick fix” to make individuals want to bathe with your help. Contact ComForCare for problem-solving strategies for bathing, care tasks and more. Pro Tip: Vision changes are common for those living with dementia. For example, an individual may experience poor depth perception, leading to over or under-reaching for the shower grab bar. Similarly, a person may only see what’s right in front of them due to visual field deficit or "tunnel vision." A dark bath mat may even look like a hole in the floor. Make sure you present items where the they can see, and guide them gently through the activity. Pro Tip: Sensory changes associated with dementia can make bathing uncomfortable. Due to poor temperature regulation, your loved one may feel cold in a warm room. If they are cold, consider moving the bath to the sink. There, it’s possible to wash, dry and dress sections of their body while keeping others covered and warm. If your loved one has sensory processing deficits, falling water may feel “prickly.” They may prefer to hold the shower wand close to their body. Try reducing the water pressure or draping a hand towel over their skin to lessen the feeling of the droplets. Finally, your loved one may not like the feeling of cold, hard surfaces. Consider placing a hand towel on the bathing seat. You could also guide them to step into the bathing area with socks on and get their feet wet before removing their socks. Things to Avoid Because all types of dementia impact memory, reasoning and judgment, avoid:
• Arguing • Correcting • Startling the person • Doing everything yourself
Contact ComForCare for additional strategies and support.
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