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Ask Insight: How can I make care in the bathroom less stressful?

I’m having a lot of trouble trying to provide care to my wife. She always gets upset whenever I try to help her in the shower or with toileting. I don’t know what to do anymore because sometimes she gets really upset with me by yelling, and sometimes she’ll tell me that she’s already showered or gone to the bathroom when I know she didn’t. I’m getting very frustrated and overwhelmed with how she is reacting. Please help!


My first thought, and reassurance to you, is that this is probably due to the disease progression, and not anything you’re doing wrong! It could be because with their progression, they’re just not really understanding what’s going on. Maybe they’re frustrated and trying to tell you something, but their ability to communicate has diminished, so there’s a breakdown there. Understandably, this creates a lot of anxiety for both of you.

One thing we often suggest is to use simple, short directions. One thing at a time, step-by-step, with simple adult sentences. It takes people with dementia about 90 seconds to fully comprehend what you’re saying. Allow them some time to process each step; perhaps some of the stress is coming from things just moving too quickly to follow. I would also recommend telling them exactly what you’re going to do. It would be unnerving to anyone to think someone is just trying to take off your pants – let them know how you’re going to help them on the toilet; first I’ll help you with your pants, etc. Help them understand what’s going on.

In terms of getting them to the bathroom in the first place, one thing you can try is to just ask them to come along with you. Say something like, well, we are just about to have lunch. Come with me and we can freshen up before we eat. You can use this of course for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or if you’re going out, say why don’t we use the bathroom now so we don’t have to later. Especially if they’re in the earlier stages, they might appreciate that you’re giving them a reason to come with you.

Another thing to try is utilizing a new face to help you with the task at hand or reapproaching at a later time. If there’s someone else in your house that can help, they may be more successful at that certain time. If it’s just you, step back, and try again 10 or 15 minutes later. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time, and now you’ll have more success – or you can also change your approach from the last time you tried! If nothing else, it gives you time to deescalate if you were also getting frustrated.

Above all, you’re trying to make this process as safe and stress-free as possible. Try singing a song, put pictures in the bathroom of happy memories, or anything that might distract your loved one or give them something to focus on while you’re in there. Anything that makes the experience more positive is helpful for you both!


We're answering your questions in our "Ask Insight" series this month. If you have a question you'd like answered, please send it to or give us a call at 703-204-4664!


Ellie Pettoni is the Social Services Coordinator at Insight Memory Care Center.


"I like that IMCC focuses on dementia-related problems and provides a focal point for families to network and socially interact in coping with dementia. It provides a community that helps us in our struggle."