My mother-in-law has Alzheimer's and hates to take a shower. She was always been very conscious about her appearance, hair, makeup, clothes and jewelry. Now she is so unkept. When my father-in-law (who is so loving and patient) kindly asks or suggests that she takes a shower, she gets angry. Why does she not want to shower and why is she getting angry? Just looking to make sense of it and perhaps find a way to get her to shower without making her agitated. Thank you!

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Hi, thanks for writing in! Let’s see if we can break this down a little bit. For one, she’s probably like many of my residents, who are convinced that they “already took a shower earlier.” Some of my residents also just hate showering in front of other people. They know that they need help, and it’s awkward to have someone else helping you when you’re naked and bathing! She may also feel like him asking her to shower is demeaning. Perhaps she feels as though she is clean, and him asking makes her feel awkward and upset.

The best thing to do here is to figure out what her pattern used to be. Many people with dementia have bad hygiene. I see this a lot. Find out when she used to shower. Was it after she first woke up? Was it before she went to bed? She’ll prefer to shower, probably, when it’s her normal time of day.

It’s awkward to recommend this to you, probably, but I’ll do it anyway: I had a resident once who refused to shower when she lived at home, but her husband used to shower WITH her. She enjoyed the company and it was more a romantic gesture, so she didn’t feel as though he was “helping” her–they were just spending more intimate time together.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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