Peter was 13 when he had his first dog, 18 when he worked in the lumber camps, and 20 when he married. Peter, now 74, is pacing up and down the hallways of Tick Tock Manor where he is a resident. Peter always paces on this day, because today is Peter’s bath day.
Things are done right on schedule at Tick Tock Manor. The caregivers never forget Peter’s bath day. Even more amazing, is that, although Peter has dementia, he never forgets the bath day either.
This morning is different however. Peter is clutching a small book close to his chest. When the caregiver approaches him to offer to assist Peter with his bath, he becomes agitated and walks off quickly in the other direction. Any further mention of bathing sets Peter off in an angry outburst.
“Bathing Sparky” is a true story of the challenges faced in bathing persons with dementia. I worked with Peter and his family for several months. I always admired and respected the flexibility and resourcefulness of the caregivers in dealing with challenging behaviors. In this particular case study, Peter’s dog, Sparky, actually provides the solution.
The caregiver interview following the story, illustrates many useful coping strategies that worked in this situation, and may prove useful for others dealing with similar challenges. (Chapter 18, The Living Dementia Case-Study Approach, deGeest, 2007)
Why does bathing cause anxiety for the person with dementia?
Bathing time can be one of the most challenging times for the caregiver, and one of the most frightening times for the person with dementia. Think of all the steps we ourselves need to take when preparing for a bath.
Peter is down to the very basics. He lives in the moment. Talking about his dog, Sparky, makes him happy. Reminiscing about the days of working in the lumber camps makes Peter happy. Peter is not interested in bathing. He doesn’t see any reason for taking a bath. In fact, any discussion over three minutes is too long to even discuss the bath. The caregiver needs to change the subject and discuss what makes Peter happy.