Tips for Safely Bathing Alzheimer’s Patients

July 6, 2015
Help make bath time easier for a person with Alzheimer's.

Help make bath time easier for a person with Alzheimer’s.

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can present many challenges, especially for those who have just begun the experience. One task which can be both confusing and uncomfortable for caregivers is bathing a person with Alzheimer’s.

The following tips are intended to help answer some questions about what to do to make this experience smoother and safer for all involved.

  • Make the tub as slip-free as possible. Rubber mats or strips on the floor of the tub and/or a shower seat, along with shower bars on the wall can help minimize the risk of a fall. Avoid using oils, even those specially designed for the tub, as the residue can increase the slipperiness factor.
  • Check the water temperature. Make sure the water, whether for a bath or a shower, is at the right temperature. Be aware that some Alzheimer’s patients may reach out and fiddle with the knobs, not knowing that this may increase or decrease the heat of the water.
  • Go plastic. Glass bottles or cups can fall and break. If the desired soap or shampoo is sold only in a glass bottle, pour it into a plastic bottle for tub and shower use.
  • Be prepared. While you don’t want to rush a patient in the bath, you likely want to move things along efficiently. It helps if the soap, shampoo, washcloths, towels, etc. are all set out and ready for use before the person with Alzheimer’s enters the bathroom.
  • Make the bathroom inviting. Take time to adjust the temperature in the bathroom so that it is comfortable. Make sure there is sufficient light so that both the caregiver and the patient can see with no trouble. If the patient is fond of certain music, turn on a little gentle background music. If the patient finds stories relaxing and can concentrate well, tell a familiar story to relax him or her.
  • Be respectful. If the patient feels self-conscious about being naked, allow him or her to remain clothed as long as possible. When it comes time to disrobe, explain that it’s now time and that the patient will be able to wrap up in a towel as soon as the bath is finished. If there is a shower chair, consider letting the patient drape a towel over his or her body while showering.
  • Let the patient use a washcloth. This gives the senior some control and a sense of participation. Those patients who get physically aggressive may be less likely to lash out if there is something in hand.
  • Provide distraction. If the patient is uncomfortable, try to keep up a conversation about topics that amuse or interest him or her.

Bathing a person with Alzheimer’s requires skill, but caregivers will find that with a little practice it becomes relatively easy.

Writer, Craig Butler

Craig Butler has been writing on a wide range of topics for more than fifteen years. As the National Communications Director for the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Craig regularly writes on a range of health and medical topics. Among the many projects he has written for the Foundation is the Cooley's Anemia Storybook, a collection of original short stories for children with the blood disorder Cooley's Anemia. His freelance work has ranged from reviewing moves and CDs to creating entertainment-related stories about baldness, to creating text for comic strips. Craig looks forward to having a dialogue with you about senior care and issues of concern.

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