How to help a person with later stage dementia shower with dignity
The problem of how to make shower time less stressful for both someone with later stage dementia as well as their helper appears to be a prevalent one. So, I would like to share my experience of showering my Mum and the strategies we employed to keep the process as calm as possible. Maybe there will be something here that will help you.
I have already talked about the physical environment in an earlier blog – see here – so this is more about the strategies we used.
After your have read the blog take a look at our video here showing the shower and drying draprons® in action.
Shower in the morning before dressing
We would always help Mum to shower in the morning. This was easiest because she would already be visiting the loo which was in the wet room, so it was a natural progression to then have a shower.
Wet room makes life easier
I can’t recommend a wet room enough. It doesn’t have to be huge – the size of a small downstairs loo is plenty – it avoids issues of stepping into showers or climbing into baths, any accidents can just be washed away with the shower head, there are no worries about getting everywhere wet, and there is no need for a bath mat that might disturb some people with dementia. A heated non-slip floor is cosy and helps the less sure footed, and, when the time comes, you can still wheel people into the wet room on a shower commode.
Sing to aid communication
We would help her to walk there (later on, this would be with her walking frame and later still she would be in her wheeled shower chair ), and singing on the way encouraged her. This would generally be something like – ‘Let’s go for a shower, a shower, a shower…..’ to the tune of ‘There’s a hole in my bucket’, or ‘left foot, right foot 1 2 3….’ to the tune of ‘Lou Lou skip to my Lou’. We found she understood this very well. (Music is a whole brain activity - see my other blogs about music and dementia here.)
She would still have her night clothes on at this stage and she would have to be getting undressed in order to get dressed – so to shower in the middle of this is an obvious thing to do and kept to a minimum any potential arguments.
Feeling vulnerable and exposed can lead to agitation (Well why wouldn't it? It would certainly make me feel worried and agitated.)
We then tried all sorts in order that she could be helped to shower with dignity and be uncovered as little as possible. We would wrap a towel around her shoulders and pop one over her knees to make her feel more comfortable and less exposed. This worked to an extent but she was still agitated and clearly not happy about having to be helped to bathe. The agitation became worse as the dementia progressed and she even took to pulling our hair when we were bending down to wash her feet and legs! We did not take this as aggression – more confusion and frustration at not understanding what was going on. We took to wearing a bobble hat, which at least saved our hair, but did not lessen Mum’s agitation or distress.
Observing this one day, our other sister declared ‘what we could do with is one of those things nuns bathe in!’. Well, all three of us were convent educated but, of course, had never seen nuns bathing. No matter, I raided Catherine’s fabric cupboard (not for the first time), sat at my sewing machine and designed and made a garment that Mum could wear whilst in the shower. The result was like magic. Mum, knowing that she was no longer exposed to the world, relaxed and became much calmer whilst being helped to shower. Life was a lot less stressful for all of us. Thus, the Limon Attire Shower Drapron® was born.
Cover up with a Limon Shower Drapron® to reduce agitation
The Shower Drapron® was worn throughout showering and could be discreetly lifted to wash each part of the body without Mum feeling exposed. It was so simple and easy and it meant we could easily check Mum’s delicate skin for signs of pressure sores etc. and she clearly didn’t feel so exposed
Once she was happily sitting in her Shower Drapron® we could give her a lovely warm shower using the hand-held bidet shower that we had installed. This is great because there is no water coming from above to distress the person with dementia, and they can operate it themselves if they wish. It is extremely controllable with just one button to depress with one finger.
Be organized and take time
Taking time was essential – rushing would just upset Mum. Organisation was also key. We had everything ready in the wet room before we brought Mum in. Towels would be hanging on the door and clothes would be set out in dressing order. We used a pump action shower cream or gel – it is so much easier than having to open and squeeze a bottle. The ruched nylon body scrubs were great – we would apply the shower gel and then hand it to Mum to wash herself while we had a second one to wash anywhere she missed. You can also get soft flannels etc for the same job and as the skin becomes more delicate these are more appropriate. We would talk or sing to her throughout the showering process telling her all the time what we were about to do and asking her to help with specific things. Any necessary manicuring and pedicuring could be done at the same time whilst Mum was seated. This is a good idea as the nails become more easily manageable when they have been wet for a while.
Preserve dignity with Towelling Drying Drapron®
Once she was completely showered we would pop the soft towelling Drying Drapron® over her and remove the wet Shower Drapron® without needing to expose her at all, so she would still be calm and wouldn’t get chilly. The Drying Draprons® are big enough to dry the person and we used another towel to dry legs and feet etc. thoroughly. Once dry we could start the process of getting dressed, again keeping her as covered as possible. We generally helped her dress in the wet room in order not to disturb and interrupt the process and avoid any possibility of upset. Towels were put on the floor and on the shower seat/loo so that she didn’t get wet again. Once she was dressed we would help her walk straight into the kitchen for her breakfast (which, of course, we had made preparations for before the shower) leaving everything in the wet room to be cleared up afterwards.