• Nancy Dezan

Struggling with Bathing



Lola was an 85 year old woman living with Alzheimer’s disease. She resided at home with her husband, John, who cared for her. As care giving became more and more demanding, John contacted us for help. His wife had always been a gentle individual, but in recent months was strongly resisting personal care. Bath time, in particular, had become a battleground of shouting and physical force. The situation was one of overwhelming sadness and frustration for John.


Instead of fighting with Lola at bath time, I suggested we join her journey to gain a better understanding of why she was resisting. Individuals with dementia may fight bathing for a variety of reasons - cold, nakedness, fear of falling or merely a misunderstanding of the situation. However, Lola’s situation was unique. I asked John to document the actions and words Lola used when resisting a bath.


During their bathing battles, Lola often talked about children, saying there was not enough water for them. I learned that Lola had grown up in rural New Mexico where water was scarce. As a child, there was a heavy focus on saving water for drinking and bathing. Baths were strictly limited to once a week and bath water was shared.


With this new understanding, John changed his approach to bathing. Prior to each bath, he assured Lola that there was plenty of water due to recent rainfall. He kept the water levels visually lower when bathing, and repeatedly stated that there would be enough water for the children. He watched Lola’s response to ensure that she was feeling understood. Almost immediately, Lola’s demeanor improved. Bath time became a pleasant experience, and John felt more in control of his care giving efforts. Determining why an individual is resisting an activity can go a long way in improving everyone’s quality of life.