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Bathing a Patient with Dementia

The key to a calm, enjoyable bathing for people with dementia is finding the best approach for the individual.  Bathing should be a pleasant experience. Here are some universal tips.

Treat Pain First

If the patient has chronic pain or pain with movement, be sure he or she has pain medication least 30 minutes before the bath.


Begin by explaining what you are going to do so the patient isn’t surprised by the shower or a wet washcloth. In short sentences tell the patient what you are going to do next. Give one instruction at a time. Point and guide the patient.

Be Prepared

Have all the supplies you will need ready before you begin so that you do not have to leave the patient alone. Plan enough time so that you are not hurried.

Promote Independence

Have the patient do as much as he or she can or wants to. Give choices: “Would you like to wash your face or would you like me to help?”

Allay Fears

Imagine you are the patient. Having your clothes removed or fear of water aimed at you might trigger an outburst of agitation. Try soothing lighting and a calm, peaceful voice. Make sure that things like the amount of shower spray are not frightening to him or her. Let them feel the temperature of the water.

Maintain Routine

Maintaining regular routines, including a regular bath routine, is important for people with dementia. The more you can do to keep things the same, the calmer the patient will feel. Rushing or startling a person with dementia may provoke agitation.

Pleasing Experience

Imagine yourself at a spa, receiving a back rub with scented oil, soothing music playing with treats to nibble on. Try to create this sort of relaxing atmosphere during bath time.

Some experts recommend having a favorite snack or drink for the patient to eat or sip periodically during the bath. Playing the patient’s favorite music can make the experience more enjoyable. Try adding aromatherapy or a drop of perfume to the water.

Keep the resident warm and covered as much as possible—use warm towels if you can. (The clothes dryer makes a good towel warmer.)

Individualize Care

A shower may not be the best for everyone. Consider a bed bath (see sidebar). If a person is resistant to a shower, try negotiating to wash a different part of the body each day until you have washed the patient all over.

Creative Bathing Techniques Families Have Developed

The Recliner Bath

Recline the patient as much as is tolerated. Place a waterproof pad and towel under each body part as it is washed. Keep the parts you are not washing covered with towels or other covering.

The Toilet or Commode Bath

While still seated on the toilet you can wash the upper body, arms and legs. As the patient stands (with assistance), you can wash the person’s private parts.

The Singing Bath

Find a familiar song, such as Happy Birthday, to entertain and distract the patient. Sing together while washing. If you suspect the patient will not tolerate bathing for very long, wash the most important parts first.

The Seven Day Bath

Divide the body into six or seven parts and wash one part each day. This works well with people who can tolerate only a short period of bathing.

The Shared Shower

Consider taking a shower with the patient!

Be creative. Come up with your own innovative techniques for getting the job done. You and the patient may both come to enjoy bath time!