Alzheimer's Caregiving

Frequently Asked Questions

12. How should a caregiver handle bathing a person with Alzheimer's?

Helping people with Alzheimer’s disease take a bath or shower can be one of the hardest things you do. Planning can help make the person's bath time better for both of you.

The person with Alzheimer’s may be afraid. To reduce these fears, follow the person's lifelong bathing habits, such as doing the bath or shower in the morning or before going to bed. Here are other tips for bathing.

(Watch the video to learn about tips for bathing a person with Alzheimer's. To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Safety Tips:

  • Never leave a confused or frail person alone in the tub or shower.
  • Always check the water temperature before he or she gets in the tub or shower.
  • Use plastic containers for shampoo or soap to prevent them from breaking.
  • Use a hand-held showerhead.
  • Use a rubber bath mat and put safety bars in the tub.
  • Use a sturdy shower chair in the tub or shower. This will support a person who is unsteady, and it could prevent falls. You can get shower chairs at drug stores and medical supply stores.
  • Don't use bath oil. It can make the tub slippery and may cause urinary tract infections.

Before a Bath or Shower:

  • Get the soap, washcloth, towels, and shampoo ready.
  • Make sure the bathroom is warm and well lighted. Play soft music if it helps to relax the person.
  • Be matter-of-fact about bathing. Say, "It's time for a bath now." Don't argue about the need for a bath or shower.
  • Be gentle and respectful. Tell the person what you are going to do, step-by-step.
  • Make sure the water temperature in the bath or shower is comfortable.

During the Bath or Shower:

  • Allow the person with Alzheimer’s to do as much as possible. This protects his or her dignity and helps the person feel more in control.
  • Put a towel over the person's shoulders or lap. This helps him or her feel less exposed. Then use a sponge or washcloth to clean under the towel.
  • Distract the person by talking about something else if he or she becomes upset.
  • Give him or her a washcloth to hold. This makes it less likely that the person will try to hit you.

After a Bath or Shower:

  • Prevent rashes or infections by patting the person's skin with a towel. Make sure the person is completely dry. Be sure to dry between folds of skin.
  • If the person has trouble with incontinence, use a protective ointment, such as Vaseline, around the rectum, vagina, or penis.
  • If the person with Alzheimer’s has trouble getting in and out of the bathtub, do a sponge bath instead.