For aging loved ones, bathing can be a true challenge. Some folks want to bathe themselves, but lack the mobility to complete the task independently. Others have dementia and either refuse to bathe or believe they are bathing regularly. Many families share frustrations with the bathing battle.
Alison Sprankle, director of client services (also known as “Chief Trainer”) at Good News Consulting of York, is experienced in training others on how to successfully complete a bathing routine with senior adults. She playfully suggests that “sometimes you need to wine and dine them before the clothes come off. Even a small compliment can work. It’s important to make a personal connection and create a feeling of comfortableness before jumping into the bathing task.”
Sprankle’s rule is, “Never argue! Even if the person has dementia, they might not remember why they are upset with you, but they will remember the emotion of being upset.”
“Bathing success,” she suggests, “starts with creating visual cues of the bathing task at hand. If the person can safely bathe themselves, simplify the environment by only getting out the things they need. Set out a towel and wash cloth. Prepare the soap and shampoo.”
When possible, she highly recommends using a two-in-one shampoo (shampoo plus conditioner) or even a three-in-one product (shampoo plus conditioner that can be used as body wash).
Use a deliberate but soft approach, with statements like, “I’m going to put the towel and wash cloth here so it’s easier for you,” or “You’ll feel so much better afterwards. I always do.” Then, allow them to do as much on their own as possible, which will give them a sense of control.
For those needing hands-on bathing assistance, Sprankle again recommends allowing them to do as much as they can, then breaking down the task into smaller steps, talking through the process and using distraction.
She told a story about a woman who was exceptionally difficult to bathe. They bought her a baby doll. In the seated shower, the woman would wash her baby doll while an aide would wash the woman.
In another scenario, a lady who was once in a choir was encouraged to sing in the shower and she instantly was more cooperative. Sometimes it takes a bit of creativity to get the bathing routine completed.
The biggest obstacle with bathing is often dignity. In general, no one wants to allow another person to see them naked. One idea that Sprankle recommends is using a Velcro bath towel so the person stays covered at all times. Allow the person being bathed to wear the towel in the tub/shower and either wash underneath the towel without exposing them, or use the towel as the washcloth.
Afterwards the towel will be soaked, but it’s easy to simply toss in the washer.
At an advanced age, we find that many seniors utilize a basic basin bath. As long as all the “parts” are being cleaned, this can be an efficient and safe solution.
Sprankle remarks, “A shower or tub bath is fine, but if a person’s basic hygiene is being met by a basin bath, that is OK too.”
Indicators that this method is not working is if the person has bodily odors, crust around their mouth, skin breakdown, dirty fingernails and/or greasy hair.
For additional bathing tactics, including instructional videos, search “Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach To Care.” Teepa is a nationally known educator specializing in dementia care. She utilizes a hand-over-hand, non-confrontational bathing technique that helps the person being bathed feel like they are completing the task on their own.
If the person does get upset during the bathing process, Sprankle’s advice is to be sure they are safe, give them space and try again later.