Bathing Your Loved One Who Has Dementia

When your loved one has dementia, every task can be a challenge. From eating to bathing to dressing and traveling, it can be a challenge for you, as the caregiver, to perform these tasks.

One of the most challenging tasks faced is bathing. Bathing is a very personal activity. It can make one feel vulnerable and fearful. This can escalate into becoming upsetting and unsafe for all involved.

This can be very frustrating for the caregiver (you). You know that once in the shower, they will most likely enjoy the experience. Getting to the shower is almost always the most challenging step; however, maintaining respect and dignity are key to success. They may view the shower as a cold, scary place. Depth perception may be off, which can cause uncertainty about water depth, where to place feet, and even where the grab bars are.

Just as each person is unique and different, each situation will be different and unique. You will need to try different ways that work for you.

How to Make Bathing More Enjoyable

Here are a few pointers that can make the experience for both you and your loved ones a more pleasant experience.

  1. Take Your Time: Make sure you have reserved plenty of time for bathing. Your loved one needs time to adjust to something they had done last week, but they may not have remembered taking a shower or bath. Each time may be a totally new experience for them. Reserving at least an hour for the bath/shower will give you time to work with them without undue pressure to achieve the task. Sponge baths are good for in-between baths.
  2. Safety First: Make sure that the floors are non-skid or have non-skid bath mats, shower bars installed, and a firm, solid bathing chair that fits the shower or tub already in place. If you don’t already have a handheld showerhead, consider installing one. It will make bathing much easier. Show your loved one the shower bars, have them grip them, and reassure them the bars will help them in the tub stay safe.
  3. Be Prepared: Assemble bathing items. Have soap, shampoo, extra towels, bathing caps, washcloths, and any personal hygiene items ready. In addition, have all clothing set out and ready to put on after the bath.
  4. Time Appropriately: Timing is important when bathing. Most likely, you already know when that time is; if not, try after a meal when they aren’t too tired or stimulated. Mid-morning or after lunch and nap seem to be good times to bathe. They will be more relaxed and cooperative when they aren’t hungry or tired. (The same goes for non-dementia patients!)
  5. Offer Some Control: Allow flexibility whenever possible. Ask if they would like to take a bath (or other phrase) now or 15 minutes from now. Help them feel in control.
  6. Watch Your Emotions:  Your loved one is sensitive to your demeanor and emotions, even if you don’t express them. Bathing is such an intimate experience. They will probably feel vulnerable to begin with, and if you are feeling rushed, tired, or hungry, this will add to the stress they already feel about taking a bath.
  7. Positive Atmosphere: Create an atmosphere of nurturing. Have the bathroom warm and not stimulating. If you are bathing in a shared bathroom, make sure everyone has done their business, and you will be undisturbed for the duration of the bath. Good lighting is essential for safety, but avoid severe, bright lighting as this can overstimulate and upset. The use of soothing music and LED candles can help create a pleasant experience for both of you.
  8. Communication is Key: Communicate what you are going to do. Talk softly. Eye contact can help your loved one trust you. Let them know what you are doing as you prepare them for the bath. If taking a bath or shower causes anxiety, try using phrases like “going to the spa” and expressing how good it will feel. Have an activity they love doing ready for them after bathing. (favorite snack, back rub, going outside, etc. Be sure to let them know about the activity so they have something to look forward to.
  9. Allow Independence: Allow them to help you undress as they are able. This allows them to be in control of the situation. As they undress, cover them with a large towel to prevent the feeling of vulnerability and respect their dignity. Once undressed, hand them a washcloth, sponge, or other item and tell them to make sure to hang on to it. This takes the focus off the upcoming bath and onto the item they are responsible for. Once in the shower, allow them to test the water, adjusting the temperature and force of the stream until it feels comfortable to them. Allow independent bathing as able. Show them the showerhead and how to use it. Allow them to use it as they are able.
  10. Ask Permission: Ask permission to help if they can’t adequately bathe themselves. If they seem apprehensive or upset, don’t argue or force. If necessary, calmly explain to your loved one what you are doing as you perform care. Ask how they would prefer to be bathed, and be sure to remind them of the after-bath activity promised if they seem stressed or upset.
  11. Distraction Helps: If they become irritable or agitated, you can take their focus off by singing or asking questions. Try to refocus their agitation by redirecting them to something they are interested in.

How to Wash Your Loved One's Hair When They Have Dementia

Here are a few extra tips that can help make washing hair easier.

Step 1: Fill a large plastic cup with water.

Step 2: Tell your loved one you are going to wash their hair. Reassure them.

Step 3: Have them tilt their head back and instruct them to keep a washcloth over their eyes to avoid water or shampoo in their eyes.

Step 4: Continue reassuring them as you calmly pour water and wet their hair.

Step 5: Gently shampoo and massage their scalp. Use minimum shampoo to be able to quickly rinse hair.

(Remember: Dry shampoo is an option for hair washing when your loved one is apprehensive about having their hair washed. However, try to use it sparingly as offering this option may make them more reluctant to have their hair washed the traditional way.)

Step 6: Thoroughly rinse hair.

Step 7: Continue to reassure your loved one and let them know it's important to dry their hair. If they find the sound of a hair dryer frightening or annoying towel their hair dry.

Step 8: Praise them for their cooperation and tell them how great they look.


While bathing someone who has dementia can be a stressful task these tips will should give you a starting point and help you better understand how your loved one may perceive the experience.

Remember, having patience and compassion is key.

Brooke worked as a home health and hospice nurse for many years. During her time working with patients and families, she saw the pressures and strain of what caregivers went through while caring for loved ones. Lack of resources to help caregivers prompted her to start a support group for caregivers in her area. Since then Brooke has turned to writing courses for nurses and content writing. In her spare time, she enjoys time with family, her dog and travel.