Dressing and Bathing a Person With Dementia

There are many challenges associated with dealing with people suffering from dementia. As the disease progresses, it can become more and more difficult to care for a loved one or a patient. Just because their memory may be lacking and physical stamina may no longer exist doesn’t mean that individuals don’t need to be treated with dignity and dressed in the style they prefer. The truth is that as the disease progresses a person needs more and more help with washing and bathing. 

Assistance With Bathing

Helping someone bathe may be less stressful if the water is shallow, if you use a hand-held shower to wash their hair and body or if you use a bath seat. Deep water and an overhead shower can frighten a person. Uncover parts of the body one at a time as you bathe them to maintain their dignity, and don’t leave them alone at bath time. If the person suffers from incontinence, use light humor or a calm demeanor to reassure them. Remain positive and let them know that you enjoy helping them. Don’t make bath time a chore; a scented bubble bath in a warm room or relaxing music may help. Talk to them as you bathe them and be sensitive. Be organized but stay flexible to different approaches depending upon their mood and situation while keeping to a routine to reassure them. Dry them gently but thoroughly, especially in skin folds to lessen chafing. Apply moisturizer to their skin to limit discomfort. While you are drying them, check for sores or red areas and, if necessary, consult their GP or public health nurse. Give them the opportunity to select an aftershave or perfume after you style their hair the way they like to increase their confidence and self-esteem. 

Encourage Independence While Helping With Hygiene

Try to encourage independence as long as possible. Maintain their daily routine and ask if they prefer a bath or shower, bath gel or soap, which shampoo out of a choice of two they like best. Tactfully reminding them of the next steps while they bath themselves can also help them, as can offering them the soap at the appropriate time or the towel when they need to dry themselves. Don’t dwell on errors, celebrate successes and stay kind and gentle in your approach. You may need to get them a slip-proof bath mat and have rails installed in the bath or shower area. A heat sensor that sticks to the tub may help you determine if the water is too hot. Help ensure proper hygiene: wiping themselves after using the toilet, washing hands frequently (especially after “going” or before eating), sponge bathing if a bath isn’t given daily, cleaning dentures or teeth twice a day. Raised toilet seats may help them, too. Remove bathroom locks and unnecessary cleaning supplies or other toxic agents. Don’t strain your own back trying to help them. Equipment is available to help you get them in and out of the bath safely.

Dignity While Dressing

Dressing is also highly personal; how we dress reflects who we are and dementia patients may not want to give up that independence. Keep the dressing room warm and well lit. A chair with arms may help them keep their balance. Consider their privacy and make sure drapes are drawn and that no one will walk in and disturb them. Ask if they would like to use the toilet before dressing and help them if necessary. Several lighter layers may help them feel comfortable. Give the person a choice of two outfits and hang their favorite garments in the place most accessible to them. Place the garments on a plain background (sheet, bedspread, etc.) in the order they will be using them, starting with underwear and ending with their sweater. Offer help if needed and help fasten buttons and zippers. Using simple instructions such as “Now put your arm through the sleeve” or “now put one leg into the pant leg” may ease confusion. Use pictures and labels to reassure them where their articles of clothing are stored. If you have to help them, take the time to chat with them to make the process less stressful and more enjoyable. Changing clothing may be easier if you get the clothes out and have them ready after a bath or before bed. If he/she insists on only wearing one outfit, you may want to consider having a duplicate to prevent arguments. To ease confusion, help them dress in “day” clothing during the day and in nightwear in preparation for bed.