Bathing, Dressing, Grooming
At some point, people with Alzheimer’s disease will need help with bathing, grooming, and dressing. Because these are private activities, people may not want help. They may feel embarrassed about being naked in front of caregivers. They also may feel angry about not being able to care for themselves.
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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.
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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.
Bathing 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.
Preparing for 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.
People with Alzheimer’s often need more time to dress. It can be hard for them to choose their clothes. They might wear the wrong clothing for the season. They also might wear colors that don't go together or forget to put on a piece of clothing. Allow the person to dress on his or her own for as long as possible.
- Lay out clothes in the order the person should put them on, such as underwear first, then pants, then a shirt, and then a sweater.
- Hand the person one thing at a time or give step-by-step dressing instructions.
- Put away some clothes in another room to reduce the number of choices. Keep only one or two outfits in the closet or dresser.
- Keep the closet locked if needed. This prevents some of the problems people may have while getting dressed.
- Buy three or four sets of the same clothes, if the person wants to wear the same clothing every day.
- Buy loose-fitting, comfortable clothing. Avoid girdles, control-top pantyhose, knee-high nylons, garters, high heels, tight socks, and bras for women. Sports bras are comfortable and provide good support. Short cotton socks and loose cotton underwear are best. Sweat pants and shorts with elastic waistbands are helpful.
- Use Velcro® tape or large zipper pulls for clothing, instead of shoelaces, buttons, or buckles. Try slip-on shoes that won't slide off or shoes with Velcro® straps.
For the most part, when people feel good about how they look, they feel better. Helping people with Alzheimer’s brush their teeth, shave, or put on makeup often means they can feel more like themselves. Here are some grooming tips.
Good mouth care helps prevent dental problems such as cavities and gum disease.
- Show the person how to brush his or her teeth. Go step-by-step. For example, pick up the toothpaste, take the top off, put the toothpaste on the toothbrush, and then brush. Remember to let the person do as much as possible.
- Brush your teeth at the same time.
- Help the person clean his or her dentures. Make sure he or she uses the denture cleaning material the right way.
- Ask the person to rinse his or her mouth with water after each meal and use mouthwash once a day.
- Try a long-handled, angled, or electric toothbrush, if you need to brush the person's teeth.
- Take the person to see a dentist. Some dentists specialize in treating people with Alzheimer’s. Be sure to follow the dentist's advice about how often to make an appointment.
Other Grooming Tips
- Encourage a woman to wear makeup if she has always used it. If needed, help her put on powder and lipstick. Don't use eye makeup.
- Encourage a man to shave, and help him as needed. Use an electric razor for safety.
- Take the person to the barber or beauty shop. Some barbers or hairstylists may come to your home.
- Keep the person's nails clean and trimmed.
For more caregiving tips, see NIA’s guide, Caring for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease.