Personal grooming for seniors is challenging for adults with dementia, and for their caregivers. Since many seniors in cognitive decline also experience bouts of incontinence, it is even more important for their caretakers to ensure that they are bathed and cleaned daily. In addition, people with dementia may forget to bathe on their own without reminders or may sometimes lash out at caregivers for reminding them to get clean, making bath time a fight. Or, if they do remember how to bathe themselves, they may not recall why it’s so important. Seniors living in an assisted living or memory care facility may balk at shower help because of privacy or modesty concerns.
Reduce the struggle with your loved one by incorporating some of these caregiver tips into your daily shower or bath routine.
Make Showers Part of Their Daily Routine
Establishing a predictable routine is an important part of treating dementia and helping people with dementia enjoy a better quality of life. Bathing or showering may already be part of this routine, but if you or your loved one’s caregivers are having difficulty getting your loved one to participate in bathing, it may be time to change how this activity is presented to them.
Reprimanding an older adult for not bathing, scolding them, or shaming them isn’t going to get the desired results. It’s demeaning, and can often make them more resistant to showering, especially if they don’t like their caregiver – sometimes, people with dementia may provoke a disliked caregiver on purpose, and refusing to shower is one way they do so.
Instead, take a positive approach with the unwilling bather. Schedule one of their favorite activities right after shower time, and offer rewards for getting in without a fight and thoroughly cleaning themselves.
Prepare All Bathing Supplies in Advance
If your senior has a favorite towel, have that ready to go, hanging on the shower rod or by the tub. Learn what kind of body-cleaning tool, like a loofah, poof, washcloth, or sponge, and have that ready for them, too. Smell is a powerful memory tool, so it’s important that the scent of whatever bath products and shampoo you use are soothing or brings back pleasant memories. Lavender is a soothing scent, for example.
Seniors are more sensitive to water temperature and pressure than people of other ages, so ensure that the temperature and pressure of the water are comfortable. You may need to adjust the settings on your water heater or consider purchasing a showerhead with adjustable pressure and water flow. If the bathroom is colder than your senior would like, consider placing a small bathroom-safe space heater in the room, too. Warm towels straight from the dryer can be a warm, comforting option, as well. Place a couple of extra towels in the dryer before starting the shower so they are ready when you need them.
Include your senior in buying shower and bath supplies. The two of you can look online for new, fluffy towels in their favorite color or go to the store to pick up shampoo and body wash. If your senior is able, you can make an adventure out of it, such as going to a smaller soap store and smelling different products or touching the different loofahs until they find something they like. If your loved one is involved in selecting their bathing supplies, they may be more amenable to showering.
Work With Your Senior to Preserve as Much Independence and Modesty as Possible
Encourage your loved one to wash as much of themselves as possible and give them as much privacy as possible while doing so without compromising their safety. Shower accessories, like a grip on the floor or a shower chair, can help them bathe with less help from you.
If your senior has significant cognitive decline or is mostly unable to bathe themselves, you can still involve them in their shower. Give them a washcloth to hold while you clean them – it may make them feel as though they are doing something, reducing the chances that they will strike out while being washed.
If you or a caregiver must do most of the cleaning for your senior, consider washing them in sections and covering the rest of their body with a towel while you wash each section. This can preserve their modesty and help keep them warmer.
Install an Adjustable Showerhead
A showerhead with adjustable pressure and a detachable nozzle helps caregivers and seniors better bathe themselves. The nozzle provides greater targeted control over where the water goes, and the showerhead and nozzle can be adjusted to produce a bigger or smaller stream. Some showerheads have adjustable pressure, too, which can help lower the pressure to reduce the loud sounds that may upset some people with dementia. An adjustable showerhead also makes bathing in a shower chair easier.
Installing an adjustable showerhead may be a better option than adjusting the building water heater for seniors who share a home with others, whether it’s their family or in an assisted living home. Sometimes, Supplemental Medicare plans to cover certain showering aids for those who otherwise could not bathe independently without them, so look at your loved one’s coverage to see if they have a plan like this.
Narrate Each Step of the Shower
Narrating each step of the shower adds to the predictability of the process for people with dementia or others who thrive on routine. Talk through the bathing process with your senior, stating what you will do and what they will do. This may spark a memory for some people in cognitive decline. They can participate more and give others more security in knowing what will come next.
You may use the shower narration to encourage your senior to do each step themselves and only take over if they are unable or unwilling.
If you are concerned about your loved one’s ability to shower or bathe on their own, consult a senior living advisor in your area for help finding the right memory care or assisted living facility in helping them keep clean and take care of other personal care tasks and activities of daily living. Assisted Living Locators senior care advocates help families locate a good fit for a loved one who needs a little more help to care for themselves or those who cannot live independently.