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Health & Wellness

Personal Care for People With Alzheimer's

An individual in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease may only need a little help with personal care. For example, you may need to remind your loved one to bathe. However, as the disease advances, your loved one will need more help. Eventually, all personal care tasks will need to be completed by someone else. The loss of privacy and independence that results from needing more help may be very difficult for both you and your loved one to handle. Here are some tips from the Alzheimer’s Association to use in helping your loved one with bathing, dressing, grooming, and toileting:

Bathing

  • Prepare bathing supplies (towels, washcloths, shampoo and soap) in advance. Make sure the room temperature is not too cold.
  • Make sure the bathroom is safe. Fill the tub with only 2-3 inches of water and test the temperature. Do not leave your loved one alone in the bathroom.
  • Be sure to include your loved one in the process. For example, you can have him assist by holding the soap or washcloth.
  • Respect your loved one’s dignity. If your loved one has anxiety about being naked, it may help to have him cover with a towel when getting in and out of the shower or tub.
  • Bathing every day is not necessary. Sponge baths between showers or baths will keep your loved one clean.
  • Be gentle when washing and drying. Installing a hand-held showerhead may help in washing hard-to-reach areas.

Dressing

  • Simplify your loved one’s clothing choices. Offer two choices of shirts and pants, and remove excess clothing from closets.
  • Organize the dressing process. It may help to lay the clothes out in the order they should be put on. If you need to give your loved one instructions, use short, simple phrases, such as “put on your shirt.” Try not to rush your loved one, as this may cause anxiety.
  • Choose comfortable, simple clothing. Shirts, blouses and cardigans that button in the front may be easier than pullover tops. You may find it easier to use Velcro in place of buttons, snaps and zippers.
  • Be sure your loved one has non-slip, comfortable shoes that fit properly.
  • Be flexible and supportive. Offer praise instead of criticism if your loved one mismatches clothing.

Grooming

  • Maintain your loved one’s grooming routines. If your loved one has always gone to the barbershop or beauty salon, continue that routine. If that becomes too difficult, perhaps the barber or hairstylist may come to your home.
  • Model the grooming tasks you would like your loved one to perform. For example, comb your hair and encourage him to do the same.
  • Use low-tech grooming instruments. For example, an electric shaver may be less threatening than a razor.

Toileting

  • People with Alzheimer’s disease commonly experience incontinence—a loss of bladder or bowel control. Your loved one’s incontinence may result from not recognizing natural urges, forgetting where the bathroom is or from side effects of medications. These tips may help your loved one manage incontinence:
  • Remove obstacles. You may need to move furniture to make a clear path to the bathroom. Be sure that your loved one is able to easily remove clothing.
  • Provide visual cues. You may want to hang a picture of a toilet on the bathroom door to help your loved one find the bathroom. A colorful lid cover on the toilet may help the toilet stand out.
  • Periodically give your loved one reminders to use the bathroom. Look for signs of agitation, such as facial gestures or pacing, that may indicate your loved one needs to go to the bathroom.
  • Monitor incontinence. Note when accidents occur so that you can plan accordingly. For example, if accidents happen every two hours, get your loved one to the bathroom before that time.
  • Limiting the fluids your loved one drinks before bed may control incontinence at night. You may also want to consider a bedside commode.
  • Consider incontinence products. Beds can be equipped with rubber sheets or incontinence pads. You may want to have your loved one wear padded undergarments or adult briefs.
  • Be supportive of your loved one. Incontinence may be embarrassing, so be sure to have a reassuring attitude when addressing this with your loved one.