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I Almost Never Talk My Wife Into Taking a Shower

Posted Dec 29 2011 10:54am
You are not actually convincing your loved one that a shower is the key element, you are convincing them that the shower is a natural, ordinary part of a progression of events leading to something enjoyable.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Our reader John wrote in an email to me:

In spite of your wonderful tutorials on bathing and showering, I almost never talk my wife into taking a shower.

She hates to take off her watch and jewelry and fights any effort to take off her outer clothing. (Underwear is a no-no!)

"Bribes" don't seem to help, she really just hates to shower (although she prefers showering to a bath).

Do you have any other suggestions?


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For sure, a large fraction of persons living with Alzheimer's hate to take a shower, and they will resist at every turn.

I was a member of that club for years.

I tried the usual approach at first. I tried to reason and explain. In other words, to talk my mother into taking a shower.

Stuff like this. "You haven't taken a shower in days. You need to take a shower. You'll feel better when you are nice and clean. You use to take a shower every day. If you don't take a shower you'll get stinky. If you don't take a shower your skin will get all gnarly. If you don't take a shower your skin will get all itchy." Fill in the blanks.

Many persons living with dementia don't like water. Mu guess is that they can't see it, so it sneaks up on them when you put them in the shower. I bet your loved one tries to move out of the way of the water when they get in the shower. Maybe they think they are going to drown.

I think water is invisible to a person with Alzheimer's. They don't like to get in it, and it seems, they can't see it to drink it unless you ask them to drink.

John, it seems to me that you are going down a path similar to mine. The only time my mother takes off her watch is when she takes a shower. She sleeps with her watch and jewelry on. I can get the watch off for the shower, but I leave the jewelry on.

So the question is, where is the hook? Something you can use as a catalyst to get your wife to take a shower?

Lets start with time of day. Are you trying to get her to take a shower in the morning? This did not work for me. So I switched tactics and tried in the latter part of the afternoon.

Here is another thing I started doing. I took my shower and shave in the afternoon. When I finished I would start piling on the positive reinforcement. Look mom, I am all clean. This feels so good. Look smooth (referring to my face), nice and clean. Then I would take her hand and say, feel it. Smooth. Get her to rub my face.

Now here is the thing. I was setting the stage to get her to take a shower. But, I didn't say immediately -- now its time for you to take a shower. I ran through the drill I described above a few times. My point here, I was trying to embed the idea in Dotty's brain that a shower was a good thing.

So my first suggestion, start talking about how a shower is a good thing, makes you feel good, is good for your skin, etc, well before you finally say, its time to make a shower.

John, I think you know, I did go for the bribe at first. I didn't say, its time to take a shower; instead I said, time for a snack. Then, let's take a shower (key imply we are both going to take a shower); and then, we will have some potato chips. Dotty loves potato chips.

If the bribe doesn't work I would suggest this if possible. Lets go out. (Fill in the blank). It can be anything coffee, ice cream or even lets go out to dinner. But, before we go out, lets take a shower and put on some nice cloths.

John, two things. You need to see if there is a time of day where you might have greater success. The time of day that works best. You also need to find the "hook". The one thing that is the catalyst to action that leads to the action -- go out etc.

Believe it or not, the catalyst to action actually works better than the bribe for us these days. Dotty is now use to going out in the late afternoon, so it is now part of our pattern. And, the shower is part of going out.

I always use words around the action like nice clean cloths. Where do you want to go? Dotty never suggests a place. So I fill in the blank for her. Maybe, we should go get a cheese steak. She likes that one, even though we rarely do that one.

In the beginning, if you promise to go out, you should go out. Later on it won't matter.

Make the going out enjoyable. I drive down the street with the big trees. Dotty remarks each and every time how big the trees are. They really fascinate her. Sometime we talk about the clouds while driving. Most of the time the cloud looks like a dog to Dotty. My goal is to make the trip enjoyable while it is still linked to the shower.

In closing, try to make the entire experience enjoyable: the hook, the catalyst to action, and the right after the shower (you really look beautiful after you take a shower, your hair really looks great after you take a shower). All the positive words linked to the word "shower".

Lay on the positive reinforcement and lay in on THICK. Over and over.

Try to create a specific time of day, and a specific routine before and after the shower.

The goal here is simple and straightforward, try and convince a person living with dementia that a shower is a good thing. The best way to accomplish this is be creating all kinds of positive before and after the shower.

In fact, you are not actually convincing your loved one that a shower is the key element, you are convincing them that the shower is a natural, ordinary part of a progression of events leading to something enjoyable.

In this way, the shower is not the issue, the events collectively are the issue(s).

Walla, it is not about the shower at all, it is about (fill in the blank), and the shower is only a tiny part of the endeavor.

Readers are welcome to share their insight, advice, and success stories in the Add New Comment box below.




More Insight and Advice for Caregivers
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 3,261 articles with more than 402,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.
Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room


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