There are many challenges in the daily lives of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Personal care is one of the biggest challenges caregivers face daily. When we approach personal care from the perspective of doing it with the person, rather than for the person affected by Alzheimer’s, we can expect a successful outcome. Imagine this scenario, you are lying in bed, a stranger walks in, pulls your covers back and announces she’s going to give you a bath. Just imagine that for a moment – the emotions you just experienced, are the same emotions millions with Alzheimer’s feels daily. Whether you’re a family or hired caregiver, to the person with Alzheimer’s, in that moment, what he/she sees is a stranger and all the emotions associated with that designation, is frightening to them. The loss of memory is just one effect of Alzheimer’s. The person may not realize they need a shower, or that they need someone to help them accomplish that task. Vision changes could make the bathroom frightening and following a multiple-step task, overwhelming and frustrating. Understanding the challenges this disease presents, makes the job of caregiving a bit easier to accomplish. A first step is to become less of a stranger, and no, it’s not easier said than done. Knowing the background of the person, their likes and dislikes, is critical to accomplish this goal. Did they take baths or showers? Did they prefer to have breakfast first, before a shower, or was it their pattern to eat, then shower? Spending the time learning about the person, will pay great dividend in caring for them. Knowing the person, helps with the approach, but as in all relationship building, a friendly countenance goes a long way. Smile, maintain eye contact, have a conversation. Task-oriented caregivers, should count on resistance. Spending a few minutes connecting with the individual, helps to create positive emotions, and will make it easier for them to adapt to the more intimate activity of accepting your help in the shower. For the person who is no longer able to speak, then sing to them. I saw a video, created by Memory Bridge (an organization that educates and advocates for people affected by Alzheimer’s) which drives home the activity of singing, as a way to connect with the person affected by Alzheimer – see http://www.memorybridge.org/video9.php After you’ve established that personal connection, follow the steps below.
- Begin with a personal care task, you know they enjoyed. Could be brushing their hair, or soaking their feet. Start at a place of comfort for that person.
- Don’t ask if they want a shower. Introduce the idea with the outcome in mind. Say something like, “let’s get ready for breakfast.” Or, “you are so pretty when you wear blue, let’s make sure you look dashing today.”
- Don’t tell them why they need your help. It is most likely to create a negative reaction. Imagine someone saying to you, “you pooped all over yourself! Let me help you!” use other creative ways to explain your presence. Perhaps, “Your daughter, asked me to help you today.” Or, “your wife paid me to give you a spa and bath experience.”
When we care for someone in such an intimate way, it is important for them to feel involved, connected and in control. Engage them where they are, don’t overdo your help or they will lose their ability to help themselves. Encourage them to do what you know they could do. For example, soap the washcloth and have the person wash themselves. Personal care is a challenge that could be managed, if we do it with the person, rather than for the person. Empathetic care requires that we remember to consider the other person’s experience, not just our own.