High-Stress Hygiene: Bathing & Dressing

Does your loved one with dementia give you a hard time when it’s bath time? Do they resist help when choosing their outfits or dressing? Some people with memory loss are reluctant to accept assistance because these routines are intimate or because they resent their loss of independence. Others may find these tasks unpleasant or frightening. “Bathing can be a difficult, frustrating task for caregivers,” acknowledges Jessica Smith, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Wildwood, a new Memory Care community in Wildwood, Florida. “And, if not approached properly and carefully, it can be dangerous for both the person with dementia and the caregiver.” In this post, we’ll help you make bathing and dressing safer, more pleasant experiences for you both. BATHING TIPS BEFORE THE BATH: SET THE SCENE You don’t want to leave your loved one alone to grab a towel or make the process longer or more unpleasant than necessary. Before bringing your loved one into the bathroom: • Gather supplies. Have large towels (including a bath blanket they can cover themselves with if they are self-conscious), shampoo, soap and lotion ready and within reach. • Maximize comfort. Place towels on the shower seat and other cold or hard surfaces. Set the room temperature at your loved one’s preferred settings. • Have a washcloth handy. Your loved one can cover their eyes to prevent stinging or unpleasant splashing. • Cover or remove the mirrors. The person may not recognize reflections and believe strangers are in the room. • Remind your loved one it’s time to bathe. When guiding your loved one to the bathroom and helping them undress, speak in gentle tones and reassure them you are there to help and that they will feel better when they are fresh and clean. You may have to explain each step as it’s happening to reduce confusion or fear. IN THE BATH: MAKE THE EXPERIENCE MORE POSITIVE A loss of independence and privacy can be difficult for people with dementia. Those in later stages may believe their caregivers are trying to harm them, triggering a catastrophic reaction. • Continue to talk to and reassure your loved one. Also let them feel the water before they get in and continue to ask if they are doing okay. • Be accommodating. If the person prefers showers to baths or vice versa, honor their preference if it is safe for you both to do so. • Encourage independence. Allow the person to cleanse themselves as much as possible. Guide the person through each step and offer gentle reminders of what to do if necessary. Assist only as needed. • Warm your hands before touching your loved one’s bare skin.Play soothing music or sing their favorite song together. This could serve as a welcome distraction. • Adjust shower pressure to a soft setting. The person's skin may be sensitive, and people with dementia might feel the sting of a shower stream as a threat. • Be gentle. Avoid scrubbing sensitive skin.Always check water temperature. People with dementia may have increased or decreased sensitivity to hot water, which could be dangerous. If bathwater becomes too cool, your loved one may become uncomfortable and disagreeable. • Assist with hard-to-reach areas. Wash their back, lower legs and feet, genitals and between folds of skin. • Respect the person's dignity. Give your loved one a bath blanket to hold in front of them while undressing as well as in the shower or tub. It may help to have a familiar person of the same sex help with intimate cleansing tasks. • Avoid bath oils. They make tub surfaces slippery and may cause urinary tract infections. OTHER BATHING CONSIDERATIONS • Wash hair in the sink. Washing your loved one’s hair may pose the biggest challenge. Try using a washcloth to shampoo and rinse hair in the sink to avoid spraying water in their face. • Set a routine. If your loved one normally bathed every morning, nighttime bathing may be confusing or unwelcome. Determine what time of day is most agreeable to your loved one. Note: Unless someone is incontinent, daily bathing is not necessary. Pick your battles – once or twice a week may be adequate. • Simplify the process. For example, sew pockets into washcloths to help the person hold on to the soap or use products that combine shampoo, conditioner and body wash. • Reduce frequency of unpleasant baths. Between-shower sponge baths may be adequate. Consider no-rinse cleansing products, which can be used with warm towels and applied as a relaxing “massage." BATHROOM SAFETY • Consider your physical abilities. Wet bodies are slippery. Are you physically able to support your loved one in the shower? Can you lift them out of the tub safely? You may need to ask another family member to help. • For tubs, consider a transfer bench to help your loved one enter and exit the tub safely. • Mount grab bars on both sides of toilets and inside and outside of tubs and showers. • Use a shower chair. Alleviate their fear – and chance – of falling. • Install a handheld showerhead. • Keep floors dry and place non-skid mats in front of tubs, showers, sinks and toilets. • Place no-slip strips on tub and shower floors. • Consider temperature-controlled faucets to avoid scalding. • If it’s difficult for your loved one to go up or down stairs to bathe, consider a portable shower. DRESSING TIPS Maintaining your loved one’s appearance can promote positive self-esteem, but they may resist grooming and proper dress. While choosing appropriate clothing, putting on pants, or tying shoes may confuse or frustrate your loved one. Try these tips to help them looking and feeling good about themselves: • Encourage independence while simplifying choices. As dementia progresses, making choices and putting together appropriate outfits can become overwhelming. Keep a limited wardrobe of seasonal basics and mix-and-match clothing in your loved one’s closet and drawers. If going out, show them two suitable outfits and allow your loved one to choose one. • Don’t rush. Pressuring the person can cause anxiety and frustration. They may not remember how to dress, e.g., undergarments go on first, or they may insist on putting on their clothes by themselves. This can make the process considerably longer but make them feel considerably more purposeful and accomplished when they are finished. • Be sensitive to other conditions. If your loved one has limited mobility, arthritis or trouble maintaining balance, the process will take longer and may require more gentle assistance. • Set them up for success. Lay out clothing in the order that it should be put on. Hand the person one piece at a time while giving simple, direct instructions as needed. • Keep options simple and comfortable.  Cardigans, shirts and blouses that open in front are easier to put on and take off than pullover tops.  Replace buttons, snaps or zippers with VELCRO® strips.  Choose fabrics that are soft and stretchable and loose, especially around the waist.  Pants that are easy to pull down will make going to the bathroom easier, safer and help prevent embarrassing accidents. • Provide proper footwear. Make sure the person has comfortable, non-slip shoes that are easy to put on. Consider VELCRO® closures instead of laces. “One of the keys to completing high-stress hygiene tasks safely and with minimum resistance is flexibility,” says Jessica Smith from YourLife™ of Wildwood. “If your loved one wants to wear a favorite outfit every day, buy a few sets. If they are determined not to bathe, distract them with an activity and try again when they are in a better mood.” For more information or caregiving tips, call our dementia care experts at YourLife™ of Wildwood today at 352-433-0942. Designed for You. Defined by You. YourLife™ of Wildwood provides the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. In fact, we were created with that one purpose in mind. Each day, we focus all our energy, attention and resources on creating an environment that caters to each resident’s personal needs, choices and individuality, while ensuring unequaled peace of mind and dedicated support for families. At YourLife™ of Wildwood, we have the ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents thanks to our sole focus on Memory Care. We understand that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities, so we develop personally inspired care plans that help to enhance and support each person’s independence while enriching their days. To ensure further peace of mind, our team of YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance with everyday activities, gentle reminders and redirection. With our signature YourStory programming, we not only personalize Memory Care, but we are able to create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and wellness programming to scheduled outings and other special events, to personal care, assistance and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Wildwood, our residents and their families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more! Call us at 352-433-0942 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.