If you are going to be your elderly parent’s caregiver, you are making a decision which will involve taking on a huge amount of responsibility and many challenges along the way. As your parent ages it will be harder for them to complete a lot of the simpler daily tasks, and this isn’t just because they may have cognitive difficulties, bathing takes a lot of effort and energy for an elderly adult. So, convincing your reluctant parent to bathe may be quite a challenge, but there are definitely was to accomplish this, with more, and less, aggravation. We will be going for less…
You need to find the solutions to what is making your parent reluctant to bathe, and to then sensitively get their agreement to put this into practice.
An elderly parent may need convincing to shower for many reasons –
- it’s too exhausting physically
- loss of mobility or pain when moving, and catching cold
- a fear of falling
- a loss of sense of smell dexterity, hearing and vision
- skin irritations
- memory loss, depression, dementia
- and more…
CONTENTS - Overview & Quicklinks
- Your parent may simply be exhausted
- Problems with sleep patterns
- Loss of mobility, and pain with movement
- Fear of falling in the bathroom
- A loss of dexterity and strength in the hands
- Hearing loss and difficulties with vision
- A dulling of the sense of smell
- Bathing products are causing skin problem
- Memory loss
- Catching cold
- There is only so much time in the day
- Budgetary constraints
How often should an elderly person bathe, shower, or wash their hair ?
As long as an elderly parent doesn’t have activities that are getting them filthy, and they do not suffer from incontinence, showering or bathing once or twice a week should be adequate.
Bathing less than once a week is not good, as your loved one could develop skin infections from bacteria on their skin.
On the days that seniors aren’t bathing, it is good to get them to clean their private areas, and also under their arms with a sponge, or a wet cloth.
You want to be careful with an elderly person’s skin, as it is thinner than a younger person’s, produces fewer oils, and tears and bruises more easily.
It is also important to note that it’s okay to have a sponge bath rather than a shower, or a bath in a bathtub.
You may also want to consider using milder soaps and shampoos, so as not to irritate your loved one’s skin and eyes.
And finally, when your parent has bathed, it’s a good idea to have them moisturize, to stop their skin from getting too dry.
How to find out why your parent isn’t bathing ?
Before saying anything to your parents, try to work out why they may not be washing themselves.
Are there any obvious reasons that things may make it difficult for them to bathe ?
Have you checked with their doctors, or other medical clinicians, about any changes in their health that you need to know about ?
Talking to any person about their personal hygiene can be a difficult subject, but to your own elderly parent it will probably be even trickier.
As your parent, your mom, or dad, may not be ready for such drastic role reversals, and having their children start advising them about their body odor, bathing and other areas of their lives may, at first, just be too much.
I have always found with my parents, to help them adjust, I need to go slowly with any discussions about bathing, or any other personal hygiene matters, and together we can solve any issues that come up.
You may get a pretty hostile reaction at first, so just let it sit for a while, and then try again, and after a few attempts over a number of weeks, with most things you will get results.
But don’t keep insisting once your parent seems irritated, as they may be embarrassed and start getting angry, and things will just spiral out of control from there.
Don’t bluntly tell your parent that they smell
Don’t start out by mentioning body odor, or that they may look dirty. If you do so, you can make your parents feel angry with themselves, and with you, disappointed, and reluctant to listen to you.
I have a rather bluntly titled article, “How to tell your parent they smell ?” where I discuss the chemical Nonenal that we start to produce on our skin after the age of 45, and which can have a very strong odor, and of which very few people are aware, and more importantly, how to get rid of the odor.
Try to work out why your parents may not be washing –
- go check out the bathroom and see if it is safe ?
- does the bathroom need some grab bars for support in the shower or bathtub ?
- is the washing machine in a basement which is hard to get to ?
- are the stairs to the basement too steep ?
- is the bathroom up steep stairs ?
- is your parent suffering from any illnesses ?
- does your parent have any mobility issues ?
- does your parent to be overly tired ?
- if you look in the fridge, is their food going bad ?
- are your parent’s clothes looking dirty ?
- is your father not shaving as much as before ?
You may well be able to find the signs of what is happening, and just ask your parent if they require help in general, and see how they react, and if you see that they are responsive, slowly try to find out more.
In the next section, I am looking at all the reasons your parent may not be bathing, and solutions you may be able to provide, or ways you can help.
If your parent says they need your help, and they want you to assist them with bathing –
Follow your parent’s lead
I’m very lucky in that my mom knows it is embarrassing for both of us, and that if I have to help her occasionally, we just have to get on with it.
But we do this –
- at her speed
- under her guidance
- she tells me what it is she wants me to do
- and also when I need to step away to let her take over
I know that sometimes we, as caregivers, are pressed to get things done because we may have more enjoyable things we would like to do.
But believe me, you are going to save time in the long term, if you approach the difficult subjects with tact, and at a speed that your loved one can handle.
Why do the elderly not want to bathe ?
There are many reasons an elderly person may show reluctance to bathe, any one of which, may be causing your loved one not the problem –
- sleep issues
- loss of mobility and associated pain
- fear of falling in the bathroom
- loss of dexterity and strength in the hands
- hearing and vision loss
- loss of sense of smell
- skin irritations form products
- memory loss
- fear of losing independence
- loss of dignity
- catching cold
- not enough time in the day
- budgetary constraints
Let’s start by looking at each of these, and see how you can find out if it’s the reason, and tips on if there is anything you can do to help.
1) Your parent may simply be exhausted
I read on one forum, that for one elderly gentleman a bath was the equivalent, for him, in sheer physical effort, to a full gym workout had been for him in his younger days.
And I know that my mom is very often saying she is exhausted before she even starts the day.
If your loved one is predominantly sedentary, not getting much exercise, it is very likely that they have poorer circulation, than if they were more active, and will have less energy than someone who is still maintaining a greater degree of physical activity.
Offer to help set things out for a bath and to tidy up after they bathe
Help with setting the bathroom up with products and towels etc., and then clean it up for your loved one after they have used it.
You can also offer to help your loved one bathe to make it less of a physical exertion for them, or offer to get a professional in to help them bathe to make it easier.
Help out with household tasks
If your parent says that they don’t want someone else bathing them, why not just offer to do some of their other tasks around the home so that they are less tired, and will have a bit more energy for bathing.
You can help with laundry, cleaning, do their shopping, make meals, gardening and more.
Try to get your loved one to re-prioritize the bathing, with the understanding that you, or another carer, will take over some other tiring tasks.
Installing safety equipment can make bathing less exhausting
Why not make bathing, or showering, less exhausting by using a shower seat, or a sliding transfer seat for the bathtub.
You could also add a grab bar to have something to hold onto if your loved one doesn’t want seats.
2) Problems with sleep patterns
As we get older, we don’t require the same amount of sleep, and our sleep patterns can become somewhat erratic. This is often compounded with the need for a few visits to the bathroom in the night, as our bladders also get weaker.
If your loved one is suffering from these issues, they are also probably suffering from fatigue, and just don’t have the energy to do all the things they used to.
Help with daily chores
I would offer to help your loved one with the general day-to-day chores such as shopping and cooking, which will allow them to get a little more sleep.
If they can get more sleep, they should have a bit more energy for bathing.
It is always good to check with your parent’s doctor that they aren’t taking any medicines which may be disrupting their sleep, or may be making them go to the bathroom more at night.
3) Loss of mobility and pain with movement
The pain associated with joint disorders such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and knee or hip problems, can easily be enough to put your loved one off bathing.
I remember my mom before her hip replacement was having a terrible time with the pain, and stepping into the shower was very difficult, and standing for any length of time was out of the question.
Ask what you can do for your parent
If a person is in great deal of pain with mobility issues, they will probably accept some help with their bathing and showering.
You really need to press home the idea that you would like to help them, and that you are there to support them and to follow their lead.
You may need to emphasize the idea that you are there to help them maintain their independence in their own home.
Just offer to be present
If your parent is refusing to let you help, then you can offer to sit outside the bathroom, and be on hand to come and help them should they have moments when they need you.
If your loved one is not against you helping with bathing, but is having too much difficulty with the shower or bathtub, the answer may be taking sponge baths on the bad days.
Sponge baths can be done on the bed or sitting in a chair – commode chairs are very practical for this.
You have to be flexible, and any type of bath will get your loved one clean.
Use bath and shower seats
Provide seats for the shower and the bath.
If your loved one has problems with their legs, you may want to get them an elevating seat, which will lower them down into the bath water without having to step in and out of the bathtub.
Keep everything within your parent’s reach when bathing
With people who are suffering from mobility and problems with balance, you don’t want to be making them reach for things when they bathe, as they may overreach and lose balance.
Try and keep all the soaps, sponges, cloths and brushes together and with reach.
In the shower, you can do it with a shower caddy that you can hang where it is most accessible.
Use a hand-held shower head
Use a hand held shower head so that your loved one can more easily get the water where they want it without having to bend too much.
Liquid soap, or soap on a string
Using either liquid gel soaps, or soap-on-a-string, helps avoid any time spent searching in water for bars of soap, and losing balance doing so.
Get the bathroom ready
To persuade your loved one, you can offer to set everything out ahead of time, to make things go more quickly, and to heat the bathroom, so they don’t get cold.
A big toweling bathrobe for your parent to step into straight after they step out of the bathtub, or, shower will help keep them warm.
This will help with mobility and pain.
Prepare and heat the bedroom
Just as you did with the bathroom, you need to prepare and heat the bedroom for after your loved one has washed.
For people with mobility and pain issues, it is much more comfortable to sit on the bed to dry off and get dressed, so make it warm before they do.
4) Fear of falling in the bathroom
Fear of falling can be another reason that your loved one is seemingly reluctant to bathe, especially if they are less sure of their footing and their balance when stepping into, and out of tubs and showers.
I have written a long article, full of practical ideas, tips and products, which will greatly improve your loved one’s safety in the bathroom, and cut down on the risk of falling. You can find my article here.
Here are a few of those tips which you can use to convince your loved one to bathe.
Vayyar Home – Medical alert system
If your parents want to bathe on their own, and to do this alone in their home, along with all the devices and safety equipment you can install, there is a brand-new medical alert system called Vayyar Home.
The system was initially designed for bathrooms, but devices can be placed around the home.
Using radio waves, it can tell if a person has fallen immediately, and then call their emergency contacts. It is way more accurate than any other fall detection system – up to 4 times more.
The system will automatically call the telephones of nominated contacts in an emergency, or can be used with an existing PERS system, and linked to a monitoring center.
Walk-in bathtub and shower unit
Possibly the ultimate piece of equipment for someone who is afraid of falling in the shower or bathtub, is a walk-in bathtub with a shower unit.
Grab bars and poles
If you can’t afford the walk-in tubs, then something you can do to make your loved one less fearful of bathing is to fit grab bars.
This will give them something to hang onto and make them much more stable.
You can get bathtub mounting bars, floor to ceiling poles, and grab bars that you fit to the wall in the shower.
If your parent lives on a low income, or their bathroom safety equipment could be a considered a medical necessity, find out how to get it covered by medicaid or medicare in my article “Does Medicare pay for bathroom safety equipment ?”
If you have a shower with a step, maybe you can change it to a walk-in shower which will make it safer for seniors, and it may be enough to convince them to bathe alone, or with your help.
Non-slip mats can also for the shower and the bathtub can also make it safer in the bathroom, and help to reassure your parents that they’ll be okay to wash.
Non-slip floor products
You may also want to put non-slip tape on the floor to reduce the fall risk outside the shower and the bathtub.
5) A loss of dexterity and strength in the hands
Problems with the hands can make all aspects of daily life difficult for the elderly, and in particular bathing and washing, where some strength and coordination are necessary to get one’s self clean.
Check with the doctor
Check with the doctor to see if there isn’t anything that help your parent’s hands.
Is it arthritis ?
Do they need medication for it ?
Are there natural remedies which would help them ?
If not, they will most likely have to accept help.
6) Hearing loss and difficulties with vision
Vision and hearing loss can quite a cocktail of challenges for your loved one, and won’t just hamper them in the bathroom, but will slow them down in absolutely everything that they undertake throughout the day.
My mom has AMD it causes her difficulty when she has to deal with changes of lighting in her surroundings, seeing things out on to the periphery on her bad side, and to sometimes lose her balance a little.
At every step of the way, loss of hearing and vision are there slowing her down, and inevitably mom is faced with a lack of time to get things done.
Make sure that your loved ones have good bright lighting in the bathroom.
I would offer to put up all the safety features that I have previously mentioned, so that your loved one feels that they are at least safe in the bathroom.
If you haven’t looked at it yet, here is a link to my lengthy article full of tips for bathroom safety – click here.
Help with daily tasks and bathing
Offer to help your loved one with either their bathing, or with other daily living tasks, so that they will have more time for their personal hygiene.
If you do a significant amount of the chores which are slowing them down, they will hopefully feel that they have the time to bathe.
Remember when you are proposing to do this, that it’s best if you ask your loved one what they would like you to do, always insisting that you don’t want to interfere, and that you want to be led by your parent.
7) A dulling of the sense of smell
May lead to our loved one’s being blissfully unaware that their body odor may have become a little overpowering.
Green tea and persimmon soap
Not many people are aware that after the age of 40 our skin produces fewer antioxidants and as a result a compound called Nonenal is formed on our skin.
It is not the same as sweat, but it has an odor, often described as “grassy”. The compound is not soluble in water and soap, so it is hard to wash it off. So be warned that your parent may be washing, and it is the Nonenal that you smell.
It is the odor that you can typically smell in retirement homes.
It doesn’t linger so much on the skin as in the linens and fabrics – so on the clothes.
The only way that you can get rid of the smell on the skin is to use Persimmon soap.
If you drink lots of green tea, it will boost the levels of anti-oxidants in the body, and this can help curb the production of Nonenal.
Suggest taking your parent out
If you think it is just sweat that you smell, then I would suggest that you offer to take your loved one out for a treat, once or twice a week.
Hopefully, this will get them to shower or bathe beforehand, and if you’re lucky they may even say that they need a hand.
If they don’t clean up, you can then say to them that they need to take a little care, if you are going to take them out.
Most people love the idea of a treat and will clean themselves up to go out.
8) Bathing products are causing skin problems
With age our skin gets thinner, produces fewer oils, becomes drier and more prone to tearing and bruising.
Your loved one may be finding that bathing products are irritating their skin, causing itching, or other uncomfortable conditions.
Buy some products for sensitive skin
In this case, convincing our loved ones to bathe, may be as simple as helping them to choose some products for washing which don’t irritate their skin.
I have read many entries on different forums, and have come up with a list of different products that caregivers have had recommended to them by dermatologists, and others they have found themselves.
Here’s the list –
- Cetaphil products
- Olay body wash
- Beckman Brothers Goats Milk products
- Mirai Body Wash
- Aloe Vesta moisturizer, body wash and hair wash
- Oatmeal body wash and soaps
- Bend Soap Company, Goats Milk Soap
- Dr Bonner’s Castille Soap
- Lubriderm moisturizing lotion
- Evoo moisturizing lotion
- Senset Cleanser
- Glycerin and Rose water lotion
- Olive Oil as a lotion
9) Memory loss
This will affect pretty much everyone one of us as we get older, especially short term memory loss.
If your loved one doesn’t have a schedule, they may simply be forgetting to shower.
My mom has a schedule, on which we can then check when she last bathed or showered.
A bathing schedule
Make a schedule and mark it on a board which you keep by the kettle, or some other place your parent frequently stops during the day.
It’s a simple solution, but pretty much the only one if your parent is suffering from memory loss – and remember they are not against bathing in this instance, they are just forgetting, and a simple chart may be all they need.
Suffering with dementia may cause problems with bathing.
Your loved ones may not want to bathe, remember to bathe, or even completely forget how to bathe.
If your loved one suffers with dementia, you should really consult with their doctor as they may need professional assistance.
In the case that you qualify for Medicaid and state sponsored plans, you can inquire about –
Medicaid State Plan PCA Programs (Personal Care Attendant)
Your state may also offer Financial Assistance Programs which are not medical, and available to those who do not qualify for Medicaid.
The intention of these plans is to enable the elderly to continue living in their own homes.
You can check with your Area Agency on Aging to see where to find out about any financial assistance plans that your loved one may qualify for.
Talk to your parent’s doctor
With elderly parents who are showing signs of dementia, you really want to take them to see the doctor, even if you are not sure.
Stick to familiar routines
Try to always bathe, or shower, your loved one at the same time. If you stick to old established routines, there should be less resistance to getting it done.
Don’t change bathing methods
Try to bathe your loved one in the manner with which they are most familiar and relaxed – be it a shower, or a sponge bath.
Create a relaxed atmosphere
A person with dementia may find a bathroom too hot, too cold, too dark, or even claustrophobic.
So you will need to check the room temperature, make sure it’s well lit, and make the room seem nice and calm, maybe with some soothing music your parent likes.
You must remember to cover any mirrors if your loved one no longer recognizes themselves, as they will think another person is watching.
Be careful with your speech
Always talk to your parent with a very soothing and reassuring voice, and explain each step you are taking as you go along.
Don’t rush the bathing
Go very slowly with the actual bathing and describe every step that you are about to take, and wherever possible let the person do as much for themselves as they can.
Try to stick to an exact sequence of steps every time, and this will mean that it stays relatively familiar to your loved one, and it won’t create confusion.
Set out bathing items logically
Don’t forget to set everything out, and place things in the sequence that they are going to be used i.e. bathing products, towel and finally clothes and shoes.
Sufferers with spatial problems may find sponge baths easier
Suffers with dementia can have spatial problems, so getting into a bathtub may be scary for them, making it hard to convince them to bathe, so a sponge bath may be a much easier option in these cases.
Using no-rinse shampoos if your loved one is afraid of putting their head under any water
Some sufferers with dementia have a fear of water being passed over their head, and may actually fear that they are drowning.
A shampoo which doesn’t involve rinsing can be a good idea in such cases – there are foams that you can use, which just rub off with a towel.
Don’t bathe and wash hair at the same time
For those loved ones who have a difficulty with water on their heads, it is also a good idea to not bathe and to wash their hair at the same time.
This way they won’t associate the one with the other.
Go slowly, so your parent will be able to do as much as possible
As well as going very slowly, so as not to confuse or upset your loved one, it gives you the time to let them try to do as much as they can for themselves.
It’s important to let your loved one maintain as many of their basic skills as they can, for as long as they can.
This will help them to maintain higher self-confidence, and things will be less scary for them in general.
12) Fear of losing control over their lives
Bathing and personal hygiene are some of the most basic tasks in taking care of oneself, and if your parents are resisting your attempts to help them, it could be that they feel they are going to lose the control over their own lives.
Maintaining your parent’s independence
If your parent is digging in their heals more and more, and seem to be fearing they are losing control of their day-to-day lives, you need to stop insisting on helping.
It is better to just try to explain that you are only trying to help them maintain their independence, and not trying to take control of their lives.
13) A feeling of loss of dignity
Your loved one may well know that they need help, but would rather not bathe than ask you, or another person, to help them, as they feel they would be losing their dignity.
Sit in an adjacent room whilst your loved one bathes
You don’t have to be with your loved one in the bathroom, you can offer to simply be on hand, in another room nearby, should they require your help.
You can also take care of setting everything out in the bathroom, and cleaning up for your parent afterwards.
Ask your parent what they want you to do
Explain to your loved one that you are there to support them, and that you will only do the tasks that they ask you to do.
Let loved ones wash their private parts themselves
It is generally best to let your loved one wash their private parts themselves, and to decide whether they have them covered during bathing.
Covering private parts
Explain to your loved ones that even if you have to help them bathe, they can keep certain parts covered and maintain a level of privacy.
Covering up parts of the body, even wearing a swimsuit during bathing, can make the experience of being bathed a more dignified one for seniors. And you can turn away, or briefly leave the room, when they uncover their private parts and wash them themselves.
14) Catching cold
Feeling the cold is a very often a cause for seniors not bathing frequently.
My dad, who had motor neuron disease, moved very slowly and even when I helped him shower, he would catch a cold, and for this reason he wasn’t that fond of showering or bathing until we found a few solutions.
Heat up the bathroom and bedroom beforehand
One solution is to heat the bathroom and bedroom before your loved one bathes. They will have less chance of catching cold while they bathe, and when they dry themselves.
Get a toweling bathrobe for your parent
A toweling bathrobe which can be put on immediately after getting out of the shower, or the bathtub, will help combat the cold for your loved one, and may help you convince them to wash.
15) There is only so much time in the day
As our parents get older and slower, they need to prioritize what tasks come first.
If our parents don’t feel there is enough time to bathe or shower, they may be consistently putting it off for a day or two.
And without them realizing it, those days may be starting to add up …
Offer to help speed things up
I think in this case you can simply offer to help in any way that your loved one wants, helping them to set everything out in the bathroom, and cleaning up afterwards, or with washing themselves, so they can get it done more quickly.
Offer to help with the chores
If your offer of helping your loved one to bathe is rejected, you can still offer to help with household chores, food preparation, freezing meals, or maybe doing the shopping, and this will free up the time for them to bathe.
Tedium in a person’s routine can make one day seem to roll into the next, and in the case of an elderly person, they may totally lose track of time.
If you combine this with a little memory loss, your loved one can very easily forget to bathe.
Make a chart with a schedule
The best solution here is to make some kind of chart with a schedule so that your loved one doesn’t forget to bathe.
17) Budgetary constraints
Bad finances may be the reason for some poorer elderly people not bathing.
The cost of showering, and bathing, frequently may be too great for people who have small pensions, or no pension at all.
Gift your parent bathing products and more…
The only solution here is to assist your loved ones financially, if you can.
Buy the products that they require, and if you are able, help them to pay their bills.
If people are alone most of the time, they may feel that there is no need to make much of an effort to keep up appearances.
If you don’t get to see your parent very frequently, and they don’t have a social life, they may feel that there is not a lot of point in frequent bathing, or showering.
Help your parent socialize more
The best way to remedy this issue may simply be to help your parent get out more, or to bring their friends to them.
You have to hope that being more active will give your loved one the motivation they need to bathe and to groom themselves.
How to talk to my elderly parent about bathing ?
Having looked at lots of possible reasons as to why your parents may not be bathing, its time to take a look at how you can actually approach the conversation.
You have to go slowly
Because being able to attend to one’s own personal hygiene is fundamental to being able to maintain one’s independence, if activities such as bathing become too difficult for our loved ones to do, they may fear that they will lose their independence.
This is why you have to talk to them about such topics very gently.
Don’t make your parent feel dirty
You need to let your loved one keep their dignity, and not make them feel as though you find them dirty.
You don’t want to point out stains or smells.
Ask what you can do for your parent
If you know that your parent has physical issues and that they need your help with their personal hygiene, then you must simply ask –
“What do you need me to do for you?”
Have a supportive attitude
You also need to let your parent know that you are just there to provide support so that they can maintain their independence.
Let them know that you don’t want to interfere. This is easily done by showing a supportive attitude and shouldn’t need to be said out loud.
Try to create, and agree to, a regular bathing routine – work as a team
If you are helping an elderly person to bathe, create a rhythm and keep the routine the same, so they know how often it is happening, when it is happening, and what is going to happen.
Remember that when people are tired, they do not respond well to change, so don’t mix things up too much.
If your loved one acquiesces, the first thing to do is to set up a schedule for the bathing.
If you are helping them in any way with this, you need to let them set the times.
When you let your loved one keep the control, it will all go much more smoothly.
Make it fun and spoil your parent
Once you have broken the ice, so to speak, and started the whole conversation about their bathing, you will want to find ways to make it fun if you are going to actually helping them bathe.
It will be a distraction from the initial embarrassment, which you will both doubtless experience.
You can also spoil your parent as a reward, and get some special bath salts, or a really nice towel bathrobe for them.
Don’t be surprised if your loved one changes their mind from time to time, and won’t play along.
On these days, I would try and get them to compromise with a sponge bath, or have them just wash their private areas with a cloth.
You will need to be flexible, and to concede that you can’t always have things the way you had anticipated them.
How to convince an elderly parent to shower, or bathe, using different strategies, or bribes
The following tips are all different strategies which have been found to be successful by caregivers, such as myself, and on forums across the web.
I wouldn’t worry about bribing an elderly adult, or parent to bathe, you just want to maintain their hygiene, whatever it takes.
Softly-softly bathroom strategy
A very simple strategy to use, is to take a look in your loved one’s bathroom, and to then start a conversation about whether, or not, they feel safe in the shower, or using the bathtub.
You can propose to install some of the equipment that I mentioned earlier.
The idea is just to get the conversation started, and to see if your loved one is afraid of falling.
Safety bathroom strategy
You can also look in your loved one’s bathroom and tell them that you’re going to worry if your parent doesn’t let you put up some grab bars, for example.
Again, you are trying to get your parent to talk about any issues that they may have with safety and bathing.
If they let you install some bars etc. and they still don’t bathe, you will have to try some other strategies.
Strategy for the overwhelmed
If you believe that your parent isn’t bathing due to a lack of energy, along with being overwhelmed by all they have to do, you can start to offer to do the different chores to free up some time.
Quite a number of people, on caregiver forums, were using the simple method of helping their parents to wash, wearing a bathing suit – both the caregivers and their older parents.
This allows the parent to have help, and to maintain some privacy.
There are also shower capes and skirts which the bather can wear, and they just soap themselves under the garments and then rinse themselves off, and it allows them to keep their dignity.
You can read about the garments here, and find some of their videos too.
The treat strategy
A very frequently used method for getting a loved one to bathe, is to use some form of bribery. By this I mean a treat.
If your loved one has a favorite place to go eat, or a social activity they love, you can offer to take them if they have a wash beforehand.
Getting dirty strategy
One very ingenious chap, I read about, will ask his wife to help him in the garden, and then make sure that she gets thoroughly filthy.
And, although she does not normally like to bathe, she apparently goes of her own volition when she sees how covered in dirt she is.
Using your parent’s friends strategy
Enlisting the help of your parent’s friends with giving your parents the push, is a very easy way to convince them to bathe, without them resenting your meddling.
Sometimes your parent’s will have no problem receiving certain information from a good friend, and may even prefer to hear it from them, rather than their own child.
Regular family meals strategy
If you have a few family members nearby, you could organize a meal once a week, and see if your loved one makes an effort to wash for this.
If they don’t, it probably won’t be long before someone else makes a comment.
Social security strategy
I read a few accounts of how some caregivers were having particularly hard times with their parents, until, that was, that they told them that the social security would withdraw their financial assistance if they didn’t bathe.
I believe they told their loved ones that there were spot checks in people’s homes.
This seems rather extreme, but apparently it works wonders.
The fun, pleasure, and socializing strategy
Quite a lot of people say they are having good results with the bathing by focusing on the pleasure side, and turning it into quite a fun and luxurious event with their parents’ favorite products, and then going out to a social event afterwards.
Try and find out if you have a Senior Center with some exercise classes.
You could take your parent there, participate your self as well, and then afterwards you can simply say we need a wash now.
I was surprised to find that a number of people on forums, who either lived with their elderly parent, or who stayed the night, found that if they just told their parents to take their shower, or bath first, before they took one themselves, had no problems.
But if they didn’t suggest it, their parent’s didn’t bathe.
You can also add that if they shower or bathe before you, then you will be able to clean the bathroom when you have finished.
What should you do if your parent just totally refuses to bathe ?
Involving the doctor and other medical practitioners
If you have exhausted all strategies, asked for help from your parent’s friends and family, and your loved one is still refusing to bathe, it is time to talk to their doctor.
Seniors usually have a good amount of reverence for their doctors, and the more they have to ask for their help, the more they will have confidence in them – as long as they are getting better.
You want to involve the doctor to find out if your loved one is suffering from some form of mental incapacity, and because, if you have taken on the roll of your parent’s caregiver, you have a responsibility towards your parent.
Try using a bathing service.
You may not even have to use the service, as just the idea of a stranger coming in to help with bathing may be enough to get an elderly adult to start bathing more regularly, or to ask you to help them.
There are many bathing services, and if your loved one is suffering from dementia, there will be specialized bathing aids for dementia and Alzheimer sufferers.
If nothing works, you may need to move your loved one into a care facility where they can receive the help that they need.
What stage of dementia is not bathing ?
In 6th stages of dementia, in general, the sufferer will need help with all tasks to do with daily living, including bathing.
This does not mean that they will be resistant, necessarily, it could just be that they do not remember what to do.
It is the case, though, that a dementia sufferer may become resistant to bathing, and even very fearful of it.
I was lucky, that in the case of my father, he required help, both because he was not sure what to do, and also because he was losing control of his voluntary motor neuron functions and had trouble coordinating and moving.
If you are having trouble with washing an elderly loved one who suffers with dementia, there is a wonderful resource, “Alzheimer’s Research & Resource Foundations”, with excellent information about caring for, and bathing and grooming an elderly adult.
You can find that here – https://ararf.org/lesson/alzheimers-late-stages-personal-care/
Dementia and hygiene issues
If you are caring for an elderly adult who is suffering from dementia, the reasons for their lack of personal hygiene may be related to a number of specific things –
- short term memory loss
- difficulty organizing tasks
- difficulty remembering how to perform what were once familiar tasks
- a fear of water
- becoming quickly and easily angry and frustrated doing tasks
- an inability to recognize their own reflection and a fear of it
- an inability to make appropriate choices even when performing simple tasks
- have difficulty with standing, walking, standing up and sitting down
Use the same routine for bathing, or showering, that the individual suffering with dementia used before the dementia developed, i.e. if they used to take a bath in the morning, or a shower in the evening, try to do the same.
Prepare the bathroom in advance
Always prep the bathroom –
- heat the bathroom to a nice temperature
- make sure the water is at a temperature that the bather likes – let them test it before you start
- have all the equipment for bathing within easy reach, particularly if the person is still doing some washing themselves – you don’t want people standing and stretching on wet surfaces
- all the items that you need in the bathroom should be put there ahead of time
- you don’t want to leave a person with dementia alone in the bathroom, while you go looking for items you require – they may get cold, bored and have an accident
Prepare everything logically
To simplify the bath, or shower, the drying and dressing, if you have the space, set out all the items in the order that they are going to be needed.
Create a relaxed atmosphere to bathe in
If the bather gets frustrated easily, or is anxious about bathing, you can play some of their favorite calming music to relax them – it is also helpful for anyone bathing a parent, if it’s a little uncomfortable and tense.
Talk quietly to the person being bathed and describe each step before you take it
Quietly let the person you are washing know what each step coming up is going to be. This will help with any confusion, and if they are tense and afraid, a quiet calming voice will help to relax them.
Have the bather hold onto wash cloths
If the person you are helping to bathe has a tendency toward violent outbursts, a good idea is to give them a wash cloth in each hand, as they will have to let go of it before they can strike out, and this will give you a little more time to move away.
With my father, as he moved very slowly, I found that it was best if I wrapped him in a towel bathrobe immediately after he got out of the bath or shower, and then walked him to a heated bedroom where I could help him get dry.
This him warm, and also made drying him afterwards a lot easier.
I always found that it was much easier to dry my father on his bed, rather than in the bathroom.
The bed is soft, and the surroundings were all soft as well, so it was a more comfortable and less cold environment, and of course there was no water to slip in anywhere.
You can also heat the bedroom ahead of time.
In the bedroom, just like in the bathroom, you can lay out all the clothing and items on the bed in the order they are going to be put on, or used.
This helps to make things less confusing, and helps to let the person participate if they find it easier to understand what is going on.
Throughout the whole process, it is best to let the person you are helping take the lead whenever they are able to do so. This will build their confidence, and help them feel better about themselves, as their grip on their life is slipping from them.
How to get an Alzheimer’s patient to take a shower ?
It’s easiest to try to stick to established routines of someone who suffers with any form of dementia, and the same goes for showering – my father had always showered, and we did that at the time of day he had done it all his life.
Dad did not have Alzheimer’s, rather he had a motor neuron disease which for the last year, or so, was accompanied by some form of dementia, and I would help him with washing, toileting and eating.
Bathe or shower
Start by finding out if the person showered or bathed
Soap, shampoo and towel
Find out what shampoo or soap the person likes, and do they have a favorite towel.
Next you need to set up the bathroom for the shower
Ahead of time, you should have everything prepared and laid out so that you don’t have to disappear to find an item, leaving a person who may be vulnerable on their own in the shower.
Create a calm and relaxed atmosphere so that the person is as calm as possible.
Make the bathroom nice and warm so that the person doesn’t catch cold, as it may make them irritated.
Make sure that you have good lighting – on top of the normal need to see what you are doing, some sufferers with dementia have spatial problems, so bright lighting can be very helpful.
Everything with reach
You don’t want the person you are helping, or yourself, to be stretching to reach items you need, as this can lead to falls.
A shower caddy is a great idea and everything you need in the shower can be kept in it in one place.
Hand held shower head
A hand held shower head is a very good idea, as water coming down on the person’s head can be very disturbing for a dementia sufferer. You can hold it below the person and show them where the water is coming from.
Especially for those more advanced sufferers you will probably want to give them a shower chair to sit on, as well as a non-slip shower mat, and if the person is very unsteady some grab bars will help in the shower.
Use either soap on a rope, or a bottle of gel soap, as a bar of soap is too easy to drop.
Cover any mirrors
If the person you are bathing cannot recognize their own reflection, you should cover the mirrors so that they don’t think a stranger is watching them.
Prepare the bedroom
Before you start the shower, it is a good idea to heat up the room where you will help the person to dress afterwards, and to lay out their clothes that they will be wearing in such a fashion that the clothes are laid out in the order they are putting the clothes on is clear to them.
When you are showering, the person
Have the person you are showering check the water temperature with you before they start to shower.
Explain the steps
Describe each step of what you are doing to the person you are showering before you do it.
Diffuse any tensions
Ask questions about other things the person likes to do if you think they are tense, as this may stop them from getting anxious by diverting their attention.
Music and singing
Maybe play some music the person likes to sing to, and have a sing along as they shower, it is another way of diffusing any tensions
Helping the person maintain their privacy
If the person you are showering is embarrassed to be showered by you, you can give them a swimsuit or towels to cover body parts until they are comfortable with you.
Let the person do everything they are capable of doing without help, so they can maintain a little independence and dignity.
If the person is afraid of water on their face
You can use a wash cloth, which uses less water.
The person you are showering may want to wear a shower visor which doesn’t let any water run over their face, just on the top of the head.
If the person is so afraid of water that they refuse to shower, you can
Use a rinse-free bath concentrate which requires no water and can be wiped clean with a damp towel.
Waterless bathing gloves
Use waterless bathing gloves – these are for a single use only, and require no water, no rinsing and no towel drying, which use hypoallergenic washing lotion.
If the person won’t wash their hair in the shower
Use rinse-free shampoo, which requires no rinsing afterwards.
Shampoo in a cap
You place the cap over the hair, massage the head for 15-20 seconds until it is saturated, and then dry it off with a towel.
To be able to convince an elderly person to bathe, you need to work out why they aren’t bathing.
Is it –
a) because they have a physical, or a mental problem, which is causing them not to bathe,
b) more a lack of social contact and a feeling of isolation – a feeling of “I can’t be bothered”,
c) a budgetary issue
Once you have discovered which it is, you can then try to employ different strategies to convince your loved one to wash themselves, and to give them the help they need.
As first my dad’s, and now my mom’s caregiver, I have learned that there are going to be many challenging moments every day.
To get through the challenges, and to stay sane, you have to give up any ideas about the way things should be, including personal hygiene, and just do what is possible, and best for your loved one.
Be happy with what you do succeed in doing, and let your loved one know that they have done it well.
If you stay positive and focus on the good stuff, it will all be a lot easier.
The more you let your loved one know that things are going well, the more they will continue to do so.
I’m Gareth, the author and owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.