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
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
Peter and I sit side
by side in the lounge situated next to the bathing area.
And Peter proceeds to share the family photos in his
small album. It becomes evident that many of Peter’s
photos have been taken of a black Labrador dog in a
garden. “Who is this, Peter?” I ask. “That’s
Sparky, my dog,” replies Peter, with a big smile on his
face. Peter is happy to share that he and his dog,
Sparky, have spent many happy years together. He also
adds that he misses Sparky very much. In one of the
photos, Peter is in the backyard with Sparky, where
Sparky is receiving a bath.
“What’s going on in
this picture, Peter?” I ask. “Oh, Sparky is having
his summer bath,” says Peter. “I can’t do the bath in
the house, because Sparky races around after, shaking
off all the water. Sparky loves being clean.” Peter
shows pride on his face.
I see this as an
opportunity to distract Peter away from his own bathing
“Peter, I see that
you and Sparky are having a lot of fun together. And
Sparky likes to be nice and fresh and clean. That’s
great. Let me help you to be nice and clean as well. And
when Sparky comes for a visit, you will be fresh. How
does that sound?” “I don’t know about that. Do you
think my wife can bring Sparky for a visit?” “Sure
she can Peter, anytime, and you and Sparky can have a
good visit. Let me first help you with your bath. Let’s
go.” “Oh, alright,” says Peter. He takes my hand
and we walk together to the bathing area.
The small book is
left behind on the table, the book containing memories
of who is Peter, the book that holds the photos of
Peter’s best friend, Sparky.
Peter’s caregiver follows:
What seems to be
the main obstacles in giving Peter his bath?
Just about everything. Peter
doesn’t like taking his clothes off. He doesn’t like
having his hair washed, and he doesn’t like getting
wet. Then when the bath is finished, Peter wants to
put the same clothes right back on. He gets really
angry with us if we try to persuade him.
What have you
tried so far?
We no longer
wash Peter’s hair on bath day. Rather, his hair is
shampooed in the salon where the hair cuts are done.
Also, the girls on the last shift lay out fresh
clothing for Peter in the morning, so the clothes
Peter insists on putting on following the bath are
How is this
Good. Peter is
far less agitated.
Peter has a dog, Sparky. Does Peter ever talk about
To be honest, I
didn’t know that Peter even had a dog. That is
really good information for us. Maybe we can ask the
family to bring the dog in for a visit.
That’s a great
idea; Peter would love that. Also, does Peter ever
speak of the days he worked in the lumber camps?
Yes, now that
you mention it, Peter loves to reminisce about those
days. He’s told me he feels lucky that he didn’t
lose a finger when he was working in the lumber
camps. And he says, “Those were the best days of my
Do you think
talking about “the best days of Peter’s life” might
help on bath day?
That’s a good
idea. We can sure try.
Can you offer
suggestions for other caregivers having similar
The most helpful
thing I have discovered is to never argue with the
person with dementia, or to try to get them to do
something they don’t want to do. Rather, I allow the
person time, and perhaps try again twenty minutes
family visit often? Do you think they might have
some suggestions about the bathing time?
His wife visits
every day. That’s a good idea; I will discuss with
her some suggestions for Peter’s bathing time.
Does the family
visit make any difference to Peter’s behavior?
During the time
she is here, Peter is happy. However, when she
leaves, Peter starts pacing again. I think he’s
Overall, what is
your perception of the present situation?
I’ve learned to
never rush Peter, and not to argue with him. No
means no. When Peter gets agitated, and feels that
we are trying to rush him, he will say, “Don’t
guess; wait till my mind tells me.” This is Peter’s
way of letting us know he is still in charge.
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.
Firstly, we need to
gather all of our supplies and draw the water. Then we
must undress, and for Peter, that means taking off his
clothes in front of another person. All of us
strongly dislike feeling a chill. Persons with dementia
especially do not do well with being cold.
The next step is to
actually get into the water, which can be very
frightening for persons with dementia. Their perception
may be that they are drowning. And when the bathing is
done, we must get out of the nice, warm water, towel
dry, and then all of the fuss of finding our clean
clothes and putting them on.
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.
have brought their loved one to the nursing home, and
trust that the professional caregivers will provide care
and understanding. Professional caregivers trust that
the family will share information with them about their
loved one. And the person with dementia trusts that they
will receive care and understanding.
||What Doesn’t Work
Choosing a topic of interest
Keeping the person warm
Discussing the bath
Rushing the person with dementia
them to get a chill
RN,BSN,MA, is the author of “Bathing Sparky.” She
has been working in dementia care for over two decades
and has witnessed the joys and sorrows of families
struggling to maintain a quality of life for themselves
and their loved ones. Gwendolyn’s thesis, “The Relation
Between the Perceived Role of Family and the Behavior of
the Person with Dementia,” is published in the American
Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, May/June, 2003. This
work was presented at The International Congress of
Gerontology, Vancouver, Canada. Gwendolyn resides in
Vancouver, with her family where she is a professor.
your questions/comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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