My dad is in memory care. Lately he has been refusing to shower or shave. He has urinary incontinence due to prostate cancer surgery so showering is a must! The aides just ask and when he digs in they just let him not shower! How can we change this behavior?
Unfortunately this is a very common dilemma for loved ones of those with dementia both in and out of memory care units. The most important thing to keep in mind is you will not be able to change his behavior. You are not dealing with a child that can learn proper hygiene as you teach them. Your father will need to be guided, step by step, and most memory care facilities do not make patients do anything, they encourage and they remind and they ask, but they also try to avoid outbreaks of anger and agitation which is what can happen when someone is forced to do an activity they don’t want to do. If your father is forced to take a shower and he fights the staff, kicking, biting, hitting…which could very well happen, at some point they could come to you and tell you he can no longer stay there because he is a risk to other patients and to staff.
So, you can ask them to do some simple things to try to help get him to shave and to shower. Please ask them to try different times of the day. They may have a routine already in place, let’s just say they start showers at 6 p.m., right after dinner. Ask if they can try earlier in the day, when he is most agreeable. If you are able to go and help a few times, I recommend wearing something you can get wet, and taking your time and showing him how to wash himself. Take his hand and place it on yours, or on your wrist and have him hold on while you clean him with a washcloth. This may not work, as he may be embarrassed to have you help him. He probably won’t be able to lean back in the shower any more, so he will lean his head forward and possibly cause soap to get in his eyes. Remind him to shut his eyes. If there is a staff member that will work with you to do some of these things, it may help.
Then again, he may keep refusing, and the best you can hope for is to use washcloths to go over him with soap that doesn’t need to be rinsed off. I understand your concern with the catheter, and you may have to settle for a sponge bath.
Try calming music, dimming the lights, making sure it is warm so he isn’t cold, make jokes or try to keep him entertained during the process so he isn’t focusing on the bath itself, but on whatever you are doing to distract him. Also, he may not want to take a shower with the water running too hard, it might actually be scary or hurtful. Do they have a handheld nozzle?
This can be a very frustrating process, and I know you want to keep infection from setting in, but your father may have other ideas. Just love him as I am sure you do with each visit and know you are doing the best you can.