Last week, I read a great post on the Family Caregiver Blog on the topic of giving baths to elders with sensitivity and dignity. As both professional and family caregivers know, bathing can be particularly stressful for older adults with dementia for many reasons, including uncomfortable sensations such as cold air or water, a change in routine, or embarrassment due to the lack of privacy.
Of the several tips mentioned in this post, one was to play music or sing during the bath. The idea that music can help to make bath time easier was supported by one research study* that investigated the use of recorded music during bathing in a nursing home setting. The biggest difference shown in this study was in reducing aggressive behaviors, such as hitting and kicking, which happen when an elder is most distressed. Music may also help to reduce other anxious or agitated behaviors, such as wandering and repetitive movements.
Here are some tips for using music to assist with bathing:
Choose music that is familiar to the elder. Whether it’s big band, classic country, or a gospel choir, the familiarity of the music can help to make the bathing situation seem less scary.
Choose music that is listenable for the caregiver (you!). Ideally, the music should help you to stay calm and patient as well.
Sing with (or for) the elder. This also can help you to stay calm and project that sense of calmness for your elder. If you’re singing, the situation can’t be too threatening, right?
Make the music part of the routine. Again, routine is comforting, and music can make the bathing routine even stronger.
Bathing can be one of the most daunting challenges of caring for an elder, but music can make it easier.
Thomas, D. W., Heitman, R. J., & Alexander, T. (1997). The effects of music on bathing cooperation for residents with dementia. Journal of Music Therapy, 34, 246-259.