Tips from dementia caregivers on bathtime, meals, hydration, toileting, and more.
Caring for my mom with Alzheimer’s definitely ranks as one of the hardest things I’ve done. And it keeps getting harder.
With her cognitive and physical abilities declining, the caregiver time commitment keeps increasing. That means carving more and more time out of my already overbooked life.
It can feel overwhelming… and isolating, because unless you’re a past or present caregiver you don’t understand how all-consuming caregiving can be.
The lonely factor is real.
But you know what? We are not in this alone.
The World Health Organization reports there are currently around 50 million people living with dementia.
And you know what that stat says to me? All those people currently have or are going to have caregivers.
So no matter what dementia struggle you are facing today, there’s someone who came before you who dealt with it and maybe even figured out a way to make it more manageable. And what’s even more encouraging is that most caregivers are more than willing to share their tips and tricks with those of us in the dementia caregiving trenches.
I asked the Adventures of a Caregiver community to share their best caregiving tips so I could share them with you. The response was overwhelming. ❤️ I’m still going through all the info that was shared, but here’s a start.
Dementia Caregiver Tips
Bathtime Tips for Dementia Caregivers
Why are showers a struggle for many seniors living with dementia? Fear, discomfort, and modesty are a few of the many reasons bathtime can become a battle.
So what do you do when your parent refuses to bathe?
Here are some suggestions from experienced caregivers to make this difficult situation more manageable.
- Plan bath time early to mid-day when minds are sharper.
- Do an activity like gardening or cooking before bath so you can say, “Great work! We better go get cleaned up now.”
- Try calling bath time “spa time”.
- Say the doctor called and said you have to shower. 😉
- Make sure the bathroom is warm.
- Install grab bars to reduce the fear of falling.
- Get a shower chair and a handheld sprayer.
- Some seniors have a fear of falling into the drain. Try putting a towel on the floor of the shower to ease this fear.
- Let your senior do as much of the bathing as she can do herself. Only help when needed.
- Shower from the feet up. It may be less shocking to the system.
- Water from the shower can feel like needles on tender, thining skin. Try adjusting the showerhead or wand to a gentle flow. Wash gently.
- Use a towel to cover your senior’s shoulders (and lap if using a shower chair) to keep her warm and maintain as much privacy as possible.
- Try a terrycloth robe to step into after the shower. It’s warm and does most of the drying for you.
- In lieu of a full bath or shower, try disposable washcloths like THESE. They are microwavable, do not require rinsing, and are disposable. 🙌
- Break down bathing over several days. “Here’s a washcloth, Mom. Just give your armpits a quick wipe.” or “Let’s wash your hair in the kitchen sink.”
Meal and Hydration Tips for Dementia Caregivers
Eating and drinking are other topics that cause challenges for seniors living with dementia and their caregivers. Poor nutrition and hydration can cause a host of problems, so it’s important to see your doctor for medical advice for any concerns you have about your senior’s food or liquid intake. The tips in this post are suggestions from caregivers, not medical professionals, and therefore are in no way medical advice.
- If your senior is able, let her participate in meal planning or preparation.
- Try to make the meal smell and look appealing.
- Don’t put too much food on the plate at a time. Use small plates with small portions.
- Try red plates. I know it sounds strange, but researchers have found that seniors may actually eat more if served on red plates. You can read about the Red Plate Study here. These may be especially helpful in the later stages of dementia.
- It can take a while for someone with dementia to eat or realize it’s mealtime, so be sure to give adequate time. But if the food gets cold, warm it up.
- Plate guards can be a huge help if your senior has trouble getting food onto a fork or spoon.
- Sleepy seniors don’t usually eat much. Plan meals when rested and awake.
- Food tastes may change. Your senior may develop new food preferences. Sweets and food with strong flavors may become more appealing.
- Eat with your senior.
- Boost water intake by mixing with juice. Gradually increase the amount of water while reducing the amount of juice.
- Use small cups. Large ones can seem overwhelming.
- Drink with your senior.
- Have a tea party.
- Add a fun garnish to the cup.
- Try serving sparkling water in champagne or wine glasses.
- Play a drinking game with shot glasses of water.
- Offer foods high in water content like smoothies, fruit, soups, and milkshakes throughout the day.
Toileting and Incontinence Tips for Dementia Caregivers
Yep, I said it.
It’s not a fun topic but when you’re caring for someone living with dementia, dealing with it is pretty inevitable. So here ya go.
- Keep the door to the bathroom open so your senior can see the toilet, or put a sign on the door.
- Keep the light on in the bathroom all the time.
- Carry extra clothes, supplies for clean-up, and a plastic bag whenever you take your senior out.
- Once accidents begin, try implementing a toileting schedule (about every 2 hours).
- Disposable briefs are not foolproof. Protect furniture with vinyl covers for easy cleanup.
- For seniors who are bedridden, cut nightgowns halfway up the back. This allows your senior the dignity of being in her own gown while making changes easier.
- At night, keep a lift sheet/towel under your senior for easy brief changes you can do in bed.
- Triple Paste diaper cream is a fantastic barrier cream.
- Garden baskets fit at the end of most beds hospice provides. Use them to keep wipes, briefs, diaper cream, and gloves in easy reach.
General Tips for Dementia Caregivers
- Dementia changes everything.
- Choose your battles.
- Talk to an elder lawyer as soon as you know your senior has dementia.
- Telling your senior “the doctor said” can save the day.
- To prevent driving try disabling the car – disconnect the battery.
- Arguing never works, in fact, it usually makes the situation worse. (See my post on dealing with mean Alzheimer’s behaviors here. When Dementia is Mean)
- If your senior refuses/complains about taking medication, try taking your medication at the same time.
- Create an activity plan for your senior to keep them busy and engaged. See this huge list of activity ideas HERE.
- Keep your senior on a schedule/routine.
- Sleep while they sleep.
- Get your senior a Day Clock.
- Music can work miracles.
- Electronic pillboxes can be helpful aids with medication in the earlier stages.
- Door alarms can be a lifesaver.
- Talk slowly when speaking to someone with dementia.
- Remember that Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients have tunnel vision. Stay in their line of sight before doing care.
- Use a large calendar for activities and events like church, lunch out, activity day, shopping, etc.
- Resist trying to make your senior face reality. Meet them where they are.
- Loud noises, flashing lights, touching things, and sometimes food textures can be overwhelming and cause behavior issues.
- A little therapeutic fibbing goes a long way.
- This disease is mean.
- Find some humor every day.
- Self-care – whatever that means to you.
- Call the Area Council on Aging periodically and ask for help.
- Adult day programs.🙌
- If your senior with dementia is a veteran or the spouse of a veteran, check if they qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit.
- Teepa Snow! 🙌 Find her YouTube channel HERE.
- Use a dry erase board to remind your senior of worrisome things. (Everyone is ok. Your money is safe. Today is Tuesday.)
- Take a quick step outside to get a breather when it gets too stressful.
- Hospice is wonderful. Call them earlier than you think.
- Get a support system. Don’t try to do this alone.
If you have any tips to share with other caregivers, please drop them in the comments.