How is it Possible to Bath an Elderly Loved One with Dignity?
No one explained to me the many feelings I would experience while taking care of my dad who had Alzheimer’s. It was surreal that my dad was slowing disappearing, and I was losing the amazing person who raised me. Each day presented new challenges from breaking the front window and wandering into the neighborhood to getting lost in Aliso Canyon Wilderness Park and being rescued by the CA Orange County Sheriff (he was excited about his first helicopter ride out of the wilderness). But nothing stood out as much as having to help him with his showering.
The Problems Faced
The earlier days of his dementia were not so bad; he was able to undress, shower and change into the clothes I had laid out. But after about a year or so, he had trouble undressing or knowing he had to undress fully to get into the shower. With quick peeks, I noticed his socks and underwear were, at times, still on. So, I began to stand outside the bathroom door, taking him through the steps, occasionally peeking in, as I was trying to honor his privacy and keep his dignity intact. When he got out of the shower, my process continued with him getting dressed. But the thought occurred to me: if my dad had trouble getting undressed and dressed, then he must not be washing adequately too. So, I began to guide him from outside of the shower curtain.
How I Addressed the Issues?
After talking to other caregivers, I learned that they experienced similar situations and that loved ones with healthy brains were feeling the strongest emotions, for both the caregiver and loved one knew dignity was being shattered and boundaries were crossed. One caregiver, at the request of her friend, had to keep the shower curtain sandwiched in between them during the shower, leading to an unsafe condition. They both wanted the shower to end as soon as possible to avoid those bad feelings.
From the experiences with my dad, my mind went to work. How could I bring back dignity to showering? As a former swimmer who had to shower after practice in one big room, I kept my suit on and showered with soap. It worked! Now, how could I make something that would work for loved ones that was easy to use for caregivers. I needed something to wrap on them. This made me think of the 1970s terry-cloth bath wraps (my advantage for being born in the 60s). Now my mind was cooking; I could put these two ideas together. And I did.
The Final Solution
I created a bath wrap made of swimsuit fabric that a caregiver could put on the loved one before undressing and could be worn it in the shower. This solution brought back dignity and reduced embarrassment. I felt a sense of relief! Today, caregivers and loved ones are experiencing better showering. Unfortunately, my father needed more care than just showering, so he never had the benefit of my invention. But he is happy in his new home.
If you would like to share your caregiving bathing experiences and emotions, my door is open.
Traci Cole, founder