How to Convince the person with Alzheimer’s to Shower, Change clothes and sometimes Brush Their Teeth

I was really baffled when Mom began to wear the same clothes day after day whether they were clean or not. Occasionally, I’d find her bundled up in a winter coat when it was 90 degrees. Once I arrived for a short trip to the grocery store and quick lunch at a fast-food restaurant and found Mom waiting in full make-up, long evening gown and dangling earrings.

Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimers, but I had yet to do much reading or inform myself of the myriad of odd behaviors that came with that diagnosis. It was several weeks before I equated her new eccentricities to a decline in cognitive thinking. I didn’t understand the reason why she lost the ability to dress properly, or all interest in cleanliness until much later.

In the beginning it became a battle between us–me trying to convince Mom to change clothes or shower by sheer force.  If asked about it, she would only shrug, totally unconcerned by my beleaguered attempts to improve her hygiene. It was totally confusing to me. I was struggling to teach the very person who had taught me all I knew about living and learning and cleanliness.

Eventually,  in the middle stages of Alzheimers, Mom refused to shower at all. Our daily battles over the shower and hygiene became so stressful it still hurts to remember the angry words we spat at each other. Now, if I had it to do over, I don’t think I’d care if she ever showered again. It was many months before I learned that demanding and arguing only encourages the Alzheimer’s patient to become more obstinate and aggressive. Always “pick your battles” and remember, in light of the eventuality of  Alzheimer’s, almost anything is tolerable.

I still don’t know exactly why Alzheimer’s patients are so afraid of taking a shower, but I’ve seen it to be true with most of them. Many of the residents in the Group Home where mom eventually stayed were only brought to the shower after much encouraging and coaxing. I do think it’s some kind of  fear. Possibly, a fear of the water, the bathroom fixtures, the temperature settings. They do forget how to adjust the water temperature and I’ve often wondered if they’ve suffered a burn during that process.  Whatever the reason, you can read the fear in their eyes when you mention a shower.  Mom was terrified of the shower and if I left her to do it herself, she would disappear in the bathroom for long minutes, but exit without a drop of moisture in her hair.

Working on my “fear of the water temperature” theory, I found a solution that worked for us. I turned on the water in the shower,  adjusted the temperature, and let it run as I left the room. It wasn’t long before Mom was hunting me down. “You left water running in the bathroom,” she told me, “it will flood the floor.”

“Don’t you remember, Mom,” I said. “You told me to adjust the water because you wanted to take a shower. That’s what I did.”

Mom would only hesitate for a moment, search for a reply and then say, “Oh…I forgot I asked you to do that. Okay. I’ll take my shower now.” And  she was off to the bathroom and a shower as though it had been her idea all along.

  • The Alzheimer’s sufferer becomes expert at denying and covering for their memory lapses in the earliest stages of this disease.
  • They know how to make you feel crazy by denying their forgetting or pretending they remember while you know full-well they do not.

I must admit, though, I did marvel at how simple the resolution had been for the shower issue and wished I’d thought of it months earlier. It worked for a few months and that’s all I could ask.

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Due to the cognitive decline for Alzheimer’s and Dementia patient’s, they are no longer able to read the hands on a conventional clock.
Already confused, this only ads to their bewilderment. You might notice how
often they ask the date and time. Digital Clocks and wrist
watches can help with this issue as they are more easily understood.



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Comments

  1. MAKAW says:

    Showering is less of an issue with you are caring for your spouse. I give him my most suggestive look and say, “Hey Sweet Man! Let’s go take a shower!” and off we go! Works so for!

    • ~ Sandy says:

      That is the sweetest story I’ve heard yet about coaxing a spouse with Alzheimer’s to the shower! Good for you! Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Emilee says:

    When my mother-in-law (who had Alzheimer’s) refused to bathe A nurse that worked with Alzheimer patient told me that since they go back in time that it is a great possibility that they remember their Mother telling them to not go near the water they might fall in and drowned. When she refused my husband would tell her If she didn’t take a bath that she wouldn,t get to go to senior citizen the next day and she would head straight to the bathroom and take her bath.

  3. You spoke the truth! I know what you mean, and it seems to be an issue with so many others. My mom would say, I just took a shower! Of course she didn’t, I was there. Then she would sometimes get up in the middle of the night to shower. You do need to pick your battles and sometimes that was one that just wasn’t worth fighting. I had to wait until she was in a really good mood to approach her on the subject and then she might go along with it. I know how she used to be, she loved to shower and have clean hair. Alzheimers changes people in so many ways, it’s so sad.

  4. Sheri says:

    I am a caregiver for my grandfather. I tried running the bath as suggested and he told me to turn the faucet off because he had “already” bathed. He will make all kinds of excuses. He says he already bathed last night and this morning.
    It takes almost the whole day to convince him.
    The suggestion in the article is a good tip but unfortunately it doesn’t work for everyone. Looking forward to more tips though :-)

    • ~ Sandy says:

      Hello Sheri,
      Oh, I do understand. Mom would say the same thing as your grandfather. Yes, you are right. Showering is a top issue for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

      1. Don’t argue, if you keep insisting and he keeps refusing it turns into an argument that just isn’t worth it. It aggravates him and frustrates you and creates a big upset that is not worth it.

      2. If he showers twice a week, that is adequate. This is one of the most often complaints from Alzheimer’s caregivers. We aren’t certain why they don’t want to shower; it could be fear of the running water, fear of the shower stall itself, or they sincerely believe they have just bathed.

      3. He may be willing to sponge bathe with a basin of warm soapy water, and many folks prefer that just be certain that if bathing in this manner, he starts at the top of his head and works his way down, using several wash cloths during the process. Here’s an article about How to give a sponge bath.

      4. My Mom eventually became quite happy with a bench in the shower, and a hand-held shower spray hose. I think my Mom’s issue was the running water, because once she could hold the shower hose and had to push a button to get the water spray, she was content to take a bath.

      Hope this helps!
      ~Sandy

  5. Aw, this was a very nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to generate a good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and never
    seem to get anything done.

  6. Darlene says:

    My step dad was always a clean man. Washed his hands after touching most anything. He was diagnosed with dimentia a few months ago but I know it had been prevalent for a few years. Unfortunately his youngest daughter was in charge of his care. His oldest daughter and I took over when we saw issues with his money and she left him 1,000 miles away without any care planned for him. When I arrived to pick him up he had not showered in months. It was obvious due to the lack if dirty clothes in his house. I convinces him to shower and he took over an hour. Since then it has been a negotiation process. I moved him back with us and it is a process. He loves to eat out so typically I tell him if you want to go out to lunch or dinner you have to take a shower. He too tells me I just took one. He says how do you know I didn’t take one. I tell him I do his laundry and in know by the lack of dirty clothes he has not taken one. He usually gives in by that point. But I like a few if the ideas here. I know at some point I am going to need a new plan. Thanks sis for sending me this link!!!

    • ~ Sandy says:

      Darlene,
      Oh my goodness–what a wonderful daughter you are. I’m relieved the two of you came to his rescue. It is so sad when family members neglect those who can’t care for themselves.

      You’re probably right; his symptoms began many years ago. When I brought my Mom to live with me, I was shocked by some of her behavior and appalled that she had been living alone. Sometimes you just don’t notice until you spend more time with them.

      Encouraging them to take a bath or shower is one of the most difficult things a caregiver has to do. Because they forget so quickly, they simply don’t realize the amount of time that has elapsed since their last shower. I always thought my Mom had some kind of fear of the water. She would fight to stay out of the shower or away from running water no matter what. Also, there is the possibility that they are no longer able to set the water, as quite often they have problems with water faucets and such–(which way to turn for ON/OFF)

      I always wondered if my Mom had suffered a burn/freeze at some time while adjusting her own water. There are many suggestion for encouraging them to bathe. The thing that worked for me was to set Mom’s water running for her, set out her toothbrush and hair brush and clean clothing on a stool in the bathroom. Then I would call to her and say, “Mom, I’ve started your shower water running as you asked me to!”

      Mom would look puzzled, hesitate, think about it, then say, “Oh okay!” Finally, she would march right in and take a shower as though it was her idea all along.

      I will also post your question on our Facebook page and we’ll see how other caregivers encourage their loved one with Alzheimer’s to shower!

      Thank you for stopping by and all the best with your Step-Dad. He’s fortunate to have a daughter like you!

      ~Sandy
      See us on Facebook Alzheimer’s Support

  7. geralda says:

    I was caring for a gentleman that refused a shower and take a bath. His skin was so dry which must have had sores in the past that had healed. He could hardly walk.

    Finally, every single day I would try to get him in the bathroom, sitting on chair. Oh my, it was a battle every day until one day I sat down with him and asked him to tell me why he didn t want to take a shower or bath. He said that when he was younger he had split the top of his head and he was not supposed to get his head wet until the stitches were removed and all healed up. He was always saying his head hurt.

    There was no sore on his head, so I decided to asked the family if such a thing happened to this gentleman. And yes! it had happened. So the next day I spoke to him again and got him to touch the top of his head, to feel that the sore was healed.

    I did asked him to show me where it was and took the mirror to show him there was no longer a sore or anything. I explain that it was all healed up and now he could take a bath. But he still refused a bath or shower so I brought him into the kitchen and used a basin of water. I encouraged him to wash his face and hands and finally had a plan that was working.

    I would call his name as soon as he woke up and have him decide what he wanted for breakfast. I would say that after breakfast we had to do the refreshing thing for his skin to feel better and more comfortable and to wash his hair. I would take facecloth put shampoo on and he would wash that way.

    It worked for a month until he went to the nursing home. Then all heck broke loose and it was a disaster all over again. He was afraid of drowning because in his childhood he had almost drown. He remembered how it felt not being able to breath.

    Sometimes getting the love and trust of someone with Alzeimers, to help and make decision together, encourages them. Every case is different though. What works for some doesn’t work for others. Sometimes using a calender to show the days to bathe or shower seems to work. Some seniors at that age are used to sponge bathing already.

    I’ve learned we have to find the way that works best for our patient. After we find the reason why they don’t want to shower, we can usually help them. Many times they are just afraid of the water.

    • ~ Sandy says:

      Geralda,
      Thank you for your wonderful comment. You’ve hit many of the main points to get a loved one with Alzheimer’s to shower and also understand the fear they may have of doing so.

      Thank you for the insight and care you have for the patients you tend to,
      ~Sandy

  8. Hi Janie here, I like your site.

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