People often joke about aging, claiming that the elderly come up with new whims as they get older. There is truth behind this observation, though: Swedish researchers have pointed out that every second senior above 70 has developed at least one phobia. The subject of the fear varies greatly, but aquaphobia – or the fear of water – seems to be the most common.
Much to their caregiver’s dismay, aging adults often refuse to take a shower or allow themselves to be bathed, coming up with some baffling reasons such as ‘I don’t want to be boiled alive’ or ‘I feel something creeping on me’. But deep inside the excuses and tantrums lies a serious issue that family members must understand in order to help their relative overcome the fear.
It’s Not Intentional, It’s Part of an Illness
Caregivers are often stressed out when seniors vehemently resist any bathing attempt. Even if the person previously enjoyed swimming their attitude might take a sharp turn, perhaps screaming like a banshee each time the topic is mentioned or even going so far as to hurt their relative’s feelings. What you, as a caregiver, must understand is that they don’t do this on purpose. Aquaphobia can be the side effect of many conditions, Alzheimer’s and dementia being the most common.
The most important advice is to be patient and keep your calm. Many Alzheimer’s patients are afraid of water but mask their feeling by acting in a mean or crazy manner. Some of them even refuse to wipe themselves after visiting the toilet. But they aren’t responsible for their actions, it’s the result of their illness. Of course, they still need to be cleaned every now and then otherwise they could catch a disease. With enough patience and ingenuity it is possible to circumvent their behavior and deter their thoughts of the fear.
Helping Them to Overcome the Issue
The first step in fighting senior aquaphobia is to identify the catalyst of this dread. People suffering from dementia might be sensitive to the water dropping on their body, from their perspective it’s like an invisible force is battering their head. Make sure to slowly introduce them into the shower, at first wetting their limbs so they can understand – and adapt to – the process. It also helps if you keep talking to them, distracting their attention from the water.
Other common causes behind the phobia is the distain of their own helplessness. Seniors are often ashamed or vulnerable while taking a bath or frustrated by the routine. Staying by their side during the whole process could be the answer. It might also occur that a senior refuses to take a shower but is happy to accept a sponge bath. In addition, consider that they will also require help to dress and undress, and so investing in adaptive clothing is a good idea.
Some dementia patients are also stressed by seemingly normal things, such as bubbles or disinfectants. A warm bubbly bath might seem soothing to you but in a senile person’s head it’s like cauldron. The same can be said about soaps with strong aromas or the temperature of the water since seniors are more sensitive to certain senses. They might also confuse the smell of the cleaning products with poison, prompting them to panic.
Fear of Water = Fear of Falling?
Aquaphobia has a chance to develop after a serious injury in the bathroom or at the swimming pool. In this case the stubborn refusal of getting their body wet is more likely an overreaction since seniors might just be trying to avoid another fall. Such a mindset leads to hygiene issues and severe illnesses, which must be avoided at all cost when someone is living their golden years.
The best course of action is to make the bathroom more secure by installing grab bars, adding a shower bench or a non-slip rug and even set up a toilet light. Medical alert buttons offer peace of mind as well thanks to their waterproof nature. If the elderly resident is convinced that their life is not at risk of accidents in the bathroom, they may quickly drop this new-found fear of water.
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