ASK DR. MINDY™
MINDY KIM-MILLER, MD, PhD
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My dad has Alzheimers. When the caregiver is trying to give him a shower, he becomes very mean and belligerent. He yells about the water being hot and how his eyes are burning. The water is very lukewarm, for I have felt it when he is given a shower. I also saw him try to get up out of the chair and was so intense that I was fearful he was going to hurt the young woman with his flailing arms. He was like this when I cared for him during a night after he had surgery. His thin arms are very powerful and the bones are strong weapons. The caregiver wants a family member to be at the home for when he takes a shower because she said he is much calmer. I thought it was awful enough when I was there. Is there a way that we can prevent the caregiver from being hurt and making it less traumatic for my dad? The worse part of cleaning my dad is the hair and face region. The washing of the rest of his body was much easier.–MH, Indiana
Difficult behaviors during bathing are very common issues for caregivers. Bathing is one of the activities of daily living that is basic to one’s sense of dignity, autonomy, and mastery. The loss of self-care abilities and control over such personal activities can lead to frustration, embarrassment, and a sense of inadequacy, which can result in outbursts, aggression, and other challenging behaviors.
Some of the following strategies may help with your situation. If the bath is distressful to your father, try breaking it up into more manageable steps. For example, separate face and hair washing from body washing. Or wash the face and upper body separate on a different day from the lower body. If washing his face is the most challenging part of the bath, try handing him a washcloth and asking him whether he wants to wash his own face. Try letting him do as much of his own washing as he can. Giving him this choice may help increase his level of cooperation.
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