Bathing Dementia Patients- Are Sponge Baths Good Enough?

by | Aug 1, 2018 | Dementia, Dementia Behaviors

Is it okay to just give mom a sponge bath?

Bathing Dementia

“It can be a real challenge getting mom into and out of the shower. Sometimes her feet do not seem to move. On top of that, she gets really anxious. By the time we are finished we are both angry and worn out.”

This is a common story we hear. Let’s face it, getting an elderly person in and out of the shower is no easy task. And if you are the only caregiver it can be a real nightmare. Add Dementia to the equation and you have a very challenging situation. So, the question of sponge baths comes up.

But is a sponge bath enough?

Dementia Bathing



Well now, that would depend on a few factors. An elderly person living alone may have trouble reaching areas that need to be cleaned. Arthritis and other physical limitations may just make it hard to reach certain areas.

And this could result in chronic UTI (urinary tract infections). These infections are brutal on the elderly. The symptoms are often very different from what a younger person would experience. In fact, some of the same symptoms of dementia may also be caused by a urinary tract infection. Once the infection goes away so do the symptoms of dementia.


UTI’s and The Elderly


A urinary tract infection in the elderly can cause a host of bizarre symptoms. Behavioral changes are commonly noted. Families are often confused about what is happening.

“Mom suddenly started cursing like a sailor! We were shocked to say the least. She has always been so ladylike. We had no idea what was happening. Luckily the Home Health care nurse noticed the changes. She had her checked for a UTI. No one ever told me this could happen.”

Most families are caught off guard when this happens. But agitation and severe anxiety or depression are also common in an elderly person with a UTI. Behavioral and personality changes are quite common.

One way to help lower the chance of a UTI is cleanliness. Keeping clean and dry is important. Even someone who is not considered incontinent may have small amounts of bladder leakage from time to time. This is common.

Dementia Bathing and UTI

Make Sure Mom Drinks Plenty of Water

Drinking enough fluids is also key to maintaining a healthy bladder. Unfortunately, a lot of seniors’ balk at drinking water. But you can get fluids into your loved one in different ways. Fruits and vegetables are a great way to get more fluids. And summertime is great for watermelon.

If your mom had had several UTI’s lately talk to your doctor. With a prescription, a home health care aide may be sent to your home to help with bath time. Likewise,this could help the situation to run smoother.

So, Is a sponge bath enough?

It can be enough if you have the right help and the caregiver is diligent about the process. Make sure that all of the genital areas are well cleaned and dried off. Ideally, you would want to get someone into a bath/shower at least a couple of times a week. But we don’t always live in an ideal world, do we?

Sometimes the Fight is Just Not Worth It.

If it is always a challenge you may consider adding a bidet in the bathroom. This can help keep the area cleaner and avoid infections. However, getting an elderly person on and off a bidet can present it’s own unique challenge.

A lot of times, people with dementia do not want to take a bath. As such, they may scream and really pitch a fit. There are many theories about why people with dementia do not want to bathe. And if you can figure out why you may be able to solve the situation.

Pat screamed, bit and pulled hair when it was time for a bath. Even with two caregivers, it was a real struggle. Her son scolded her to no avail. Caregivers tried to reason with her but nothing seemed to work. Finally, he daughter in law solved the problem. She always took her mother in law to get her hair done on Tuesday. It was there special day together. The other residents in her assisted living facility got their hair done on Wednesday. A lady came to the facility to do hair. So, the staff would give all of the residents a bath and wash their hair. Pat was furious because she had just had her hair done and now they were ruining it! Because of her dementia, she was not able to explain this to anyone. All she could do was to scream and fight.

There are a lot of different reasons someone with dementia may not like to take a bath. The following suggestions may help.

Dementia bathingPrepare the room. Make sure the temperature in the room and the water is comfortable. Cold rooms or water that is too hot or cold is

uncomfortable. Try putting a few drops on water on the patient’s hand to see how they react.


Add some aromatherapy. Create an atmosphere of relaxation. Lavender is a good choice.


Add music. Again, you want to create a spa-like atmosphere.


Uncover the Hidden Reason

You may also want to see if you can uncover any hidden reasons why the person is refusing to take a bath? They may not like the person helping them.  Furthermore, someone with dementia may be embarrassed. They may not understand what is going on and why strangers are giving them a bath.The time of day may need to be adjusted. And it could even be painful. Every possible reason should be explored.

When this fails, a sponge bath is the next best thing. And the key is to do the best that you can do all while helping the person you care for to be as comfortable as possible.

The Team Approach

Caregivers at Sycamore Creek Ranch are trained to understand and work with someone with dementia.  As such they make bath time as comfortable as possible for each resident. Additionally, caregivers approach the situation with each resident as an individual. Preserving the dignity of our residents is as important as keeping them clean and healthy. That is why we focus on Person-Centered Care.

It takes a team to care for someone with dementia. We would love to be a part of your team. Come to visit us today!









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