Sometimes the most basic daily routines can be the most troublesome. Take bathing for instance: Turn on the water, step into the shower, lather up, rinse off and dry. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is, unless you’re trying to get a loved one with dementia to bathe. What about hydration? Have you ever tried to get someone to drink enough fluids who doesn’t want to or whose mobility prevents it? And what about all that idle rummaging through drawers and closets? What can you do? Is your loved one destined to smell like old socks, suffer from dehydration, or injure herself in the knife drawer? Don’t give up hope, there are practical ways to handle things.
Bathing is undoubtedly the most problematic for caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. It can truly be a combative experience. The best strategy is STAY CALM. Approach your loved one in a matter of fact way. Don’t strip her; keep her covered with a warm bathrobe. Prepare the bath water before entering the bathroom. Lighting should be adequate and the bathroom itself warm. Playing soft or familiar music in the background is also helpful. If she’s reluctant to remove the bathrobe, don’t force her, you can discreetly wash her with it on. When done, wring out the bathrobe and hang it to dry. Of course a sponge bath at the sink is fine, too. There’s no rule that says she must be routinely soaked!
Even a healthy older person is at risk for dehydration. As we age we dry up and dry out! Our fluid reserves decrease, thirst reflex diminishes, and we actually need more water than we did when we were younger. Now add decreased mental status or limited mobility to the pot and dehydration is inevitable. As long as your loved one has no restriction, constantly encourage clear fluids. Avoid caffienated beverages as they have a diuretic effect. Fill a sport bottle with clear liquid, preferably water, and give it to you loved one to sip on all day. Refill the bottle frequently. If she doesn’t like water, combine half water and lemonade, apple juice, or cranberry juice. Eating watermelon, too, is good, as most of its content is water.
Rummaging through dresser drawers and closets can be upsetting and nerve wracking. Usually the rummaging is messy but harmless. Sometimes a loved one may rummage through areas that contain harmful things, like knives, alcohol, or cleaning supplies, or even important information. If you’re unable to hide these things, you must make the drawer or closet inaccessible. Try using childproof locks and knobs. Most people with dementia will attempt to open them, but lose interest quickly. Camouflaging a door with a mirror or material may help to blend it in with the walls. If opening a door is truly harmful, a keyed lock placed high or low may be the answer. Another suggestion is to provide your loved one with drawers or a closet to rummage through safely.
No matter what the problem, always stay calm, think KISS (Keep It Simple Silly) and know that ‘this too shall pass’. God Bless.
Mary C. Fridley