How to Convince a Loved One to Shower when they have Alzheimer’s
I was really baffled when Mom began to wear the same clothes day after day whether they were clean or not.
Occasionally, I’d find her bundled-up in a winter coat when it was 90 degrees. Once I arrived at her house for a short trip to the grocery store and quick lunch at a fast-food restaurant. Mom waited in full make-up, long evening gown and dangling earrings.
After Mom’s Alzheimers diagnosis, I did little reading about the disease. I had yet to learn the myriad of odd behaviors that would come. I wasn’t quite sure what a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s meant at all. It was several months before I began to equate her new eccentricities to a decline in cognitive thinking.
==>>I didn’t understand why she lost the ability to dress properly, or any interest in cleanliness until much later.<<==
In the beginning Hygiene became a war between us–me trying to convince Mom to change clothes or shower by sheer force. If asked about it, Mom would shrug and walk away. She was totally unconcerned about my frantic attempts to keep her clean. Totally confused, I thought to myself– I was struggling to teach the very person who had taught me all I knew about living and learning and cleanliness.
Eventually, in the middle stages of Alzheimers, Mom refused to shower at all. Our daily battles over the shower and hygiene became so stressful it still hurts to remember the angry words we spat at each other.
Now, if I had it to do over, I don’t think I’d care if she ever showered again. It was many months before I learned that demanding and arguing only encourages the Alzheimer’s patient to become more obstinate and aggressive. Always “pick your battles” and remember, in light of the eventuality of Alzheimer’s, almost anything is tolerable.
I still don’t know exactly why others with Alzheimer’s are so afraid of taking a shower. I haven’t had a great fear yet, just cautious. Since I’m in early stage, myself, I have burned myself a couple times during the confusion with hot/cold water. I did learn to have it set before I step under the water flow. And perhaps the knowledge of the fear and caution will eventually cease.
Working on “fear of the water temperature” theory, I found a solution that worked for Mom and I. I turned on the water in the shower, adjusted the temperature, and let it run as I left the room and sat quietly in the living room. It was never long before Mom was searching for me. “You left water running in the bathroom,” she would tell me, “it will flood the floor.”
“Don’t you remember, Mom,” I would say. “You told me to adjust the water because you wanted to take a shower. That’s what I did.”
Mom would only hesitate for a moment, search for a reply and then say, “Oh…I forgot… Okay, I’ll take my shower now.” And she was off to the bathroom and a shower as though it had been her idea all along.
- The person with Alzheimer’s becomes expert at denying and covering for their memory lapses in the earliest stages of this disease.
- They know how to make you feel crazy by denying their forgetting or pretending they remember while you know full-well they do not.
I must admit, I did marvel at how simple the resolution had been for the shower issue and wished I’d thought of it months earlier. It worked for a few months and that’s all I could ask.