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Alzheimer’s and personal hygiene


The bathing process can be confusing and complicated for someone with Alzheimer’s, but good hygiene is important for a variety of reasons including health and personal dignity. This guide will help you help your parent while avoiding a stressful confrontation.


It’s not surprising that a person with Alzheimer’s is reticent to bathe. Doing so may cause great anxiety and feelings of vulnerability. Plus, reminders to take a bath or shower may feel like a direct attack on a person’s independence.


Helpful bathing tips


The 36-hour Day by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins is an extremely helpful resource about caring for a person with Alzheimer’s. Here are some tips from Mace, Rabins, and other experts that might be helpful in getting your parent to bathe:


  • Make sure you follow your parent’s past routines. Did he usually shower or bathe? How often? What time of day? Certain days of the week? Keep in mind your parent does not need a bath every day.


  • Showers, for most Alzheimer’s patients, seem to cause more anxiety than baths. But if getting in and out of a tub is also difficult, try getting a shower chair and use a hand held shower hose. This way you are able to control the flow of water and just do one body part at a time. You can even place a towel around your parent’s shoulders or private parts so he or she feels less vulnerable.


  • Avoid getting into a debate about taking a shower or bath. For example, don’t announce: “After breakfast, you’ll need to take your bath,” or give an ultimatum.


  • Help your parent develop a process to prepare for bathing, Act as if it’s just a normal part of his routine or that he’s already agreed to it. For example, “Dad, your bath water is ready.” If he responds with “I don’t need a bath,” just hand him a towel and calmly state, “Now, unbutton your shirt.” Hopefully, he’ll focus on the buttons. Continue with, “It’s time to stand up. Undo your trousers, Dad,” and so forth. Just stay focused on the steps in taking a bath.


  • Some families have found that their loved one responds better to a home health aide. For example, your father might cooperate better with a male home health aide presenting the bath as part of an exercise routine.


  • Focus on a possible skin rash or spot that might look like a sore and use that as an opportunity to slowly move into a sponge bath.


  • Invest in strong grab rails and non-skid bathmats to prevent your parent from grabbing onto shower curtains that could come down with him. You can find all kinds of bathing devices at or at durable medical goods supply stores.


  • Liquid soap with a large sponge might be easier for your parent to handle than a bar of soap that can easily slip out of their hands.


Keep in mind that full baths or showers are not necessary every day for an older person. In fact, they could break down your parent’s fragile skin. Simple towel baths or a “bath in a bag” will work just fine between full shower days. Whatever you do, please don’t interpret his behavior as an act of defiance against you and other family members. Otherwise, you’ll be caught up in a no-win, angry spiral of emotions.


The bottom line


  • The bathing process can be overwhelming and stressful for a person with Alzheimer’s. But it’s important to ensure your parent bathes.
  • There are ways to help ensure your parent bathes, but you need to be careful to avoid confrontation.
  • You can help your parent by establishing a routine, as well as equipping the shower with tools to help him or her shower more safely – such as handrails and liquid soaps.
  • Keep in mind that daily full baths or showers are not necessary for older adults. In fact, daily showers can injure sensitive skin.






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