The Bathing Dilemma

by Mary on May 3, 2016


If you ask a carer when most ‘difficult behaviour’ occurs the odds are that they will tell you most incidents revolve around personal care – washing, bathing, using the toilet.

Why is this? Well, personal care really is that – it is personal. It is something which from early childhood we have always done in private. How would you feel if someone were to oversee you using the toilet, taking a shower or getting undressed? It is easy to forget that people with dementia may have just the same dislikes about these actions being conducted in front of others.

But there is no doubt that some people with dementia are simply unable to manage these actions by themselves. So what is to be done?

Look at the situation from the point of view of the one with dementia. If you have ever been in hospital you may remember that when help with personal care is necessary the nursing staff take care to maintain your privacy. Curtains are closed, window blinds are lowered and visitors are asked to leave the room. A proper bed bath is given without exposing the whole body at any one time. Dignity is retained as much as possible.

We should do the same for those we care for. Do not assume that they ‘no longer realise what is happening’. Simple things can help. After helping people to the lavatory, leave them alone or turn away so that they retain some dignity. Only return when they indicate they are ready for help. Give whatever help is needed in a matter of fact fashion without nervous joking or expressions of disgust.

If someone needs help to keep themselves clean think about their personal preferences. If they have always preferred a bath do not insist on a shower because it is simply easier or quicker. In fact showers can be very frightening for someone who is confused.  Another truth is that bathing and showering are not strictly necessary in order to keep clean. Does that surprise you?

Florence Nightingale is said to have maintained that ‘any woman can keep herself clean with just two quarts of water’. What she was referring to was what is called a ‘strip wash –  washing each part of the body separately whilst keeping the rest covered. Conducted unhurriedly in a warm bathroom this is far less distressing for a confused person than either a bath or shower.

Of course considering someone’s feelings and working through personal care slowly takes time. But in the long run this can lead to a calmer household, less carer stress and a happier relationship between you and your loved one.

For more tips: top ten tips.


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