How Often Should An Elderly Person Bathe ?

by | Beginners Info, Personal Hygiene

You’re probably noticing, as I have done with both my parents, that with time, your elderly parents have less and less energy to get everything done in the day. And to put it bluntly, less enthusiasm for doing a lot of the more menial tasks as well. But not all things have to be done with the same frequency as your parents get older. Bathing is one of these things.

How often should an elderly parent bathe ? To avoid any skin breaks or infections, it’s a good idea for an elderly person to bathe at least once or twice a week. This doesn’t mean that it has to be a full bath or shower session, you can give your loved one a sponge bath, as long as you make sure that all areas are cleaned with soap and water. 

On the days that your loved ones don’t have a bath, it’s good to try and get them to wipe their faces, under their arms, their feet and their private parts with a wet cloth.

You may want to bathe them a little more, if you are experiencing hot sweaty weather.

You want to be careful that your loved ones don’t over wash, as their skin is thinner and more sensitive than a younger persons.

The skin produces less oils and is somewhat prone to tearing and bruising – you have probably noticed how a lot of very elderly people often have bruises on their arms.

You may want to suggest to your loved one that they use milder products as they get older, as they will be gentler on the skin, and hopefully won’t dry it out so much.

Another good tip is to use a good moisturizer to get some oils back into the skin after bathing, as this will help to keep it supple and prevent some skin tears and breaks.

Women need to take a little more care than men as they are more prone to urinary tract infections, and this can be quite serious.

Women should always be wiped from front to back to help avoid infections.

Are there any exceptions to once or twice a week minimum ?

Elderly loved ones suffering with dementia may need more bathing, or showering, if they no longer know how to use the toilet.

This is to mainly avoid infections, and the frequency will really depend on how often they are soiling or wetting themselves.

As with people who are incontinent or doubly incontinent, you do not want to leave a person without changing their clothes, washing and wiping them, and providing a dry change of pad or clothing.

If you leave someone sitting in a used incontinence pad this can quickly lead to the bacteria breaking the skin, and then more serious infections.

Does the odor of an elderly person change as they age ?

After the age of 40 our skin produces less antioxidants, and this can lead to our odor changing.

This change does not occur in the sweat which produces normal body odor, but rather on the skin itself.

The lipid acid, which is naturally on our skin, is oxidizes and forms a new chemical compound called 2-nonenal.

Nonenal is described as have a greasy or grassy smell, and will linger for some time in cloth, so it stays on clothes and bed linen. 

If you are smelling this on your loved one, it isn’t because they aren’t bathing enough, but rather because it is insoluble in soap and water.

The Japanese use soaps with persimmon in it, as they instantly dissolve up to 97% of nonenal on contact – it is the tannin in the Persimmon which apparently reacts with the nonenal.

Combined with the soap the Japanese also drink green tea which is very high in antioxidants, and this will help to hold down the production of nonenal by stopping the oxidation of the lipid acids on your loved one’s skin.

How often are the elderly bathed in nursing homes ?

I have never been in a nursing home or, had one of my parent’s stay in a home, but from reading different forums, I have seen that the nurses on the forums say that nursing homes would normally bathe an elderly adult at least once each week.

This changes when your loved one either suffers from dementia, or from incontinence.

You should be able to see in the policy statement of any nursing home how often they will be bathing your loved one if they become a resident. 

How often should an elderly person wash their hair ?

On average for an elderly person, I would say that washing their hair once a week is adequate. With both my mother and father I have shampooed once a week.

The less a person washes their hair, the less oils it produces and the less dirt will stick to it, and as a result the less it needs washing.

You also don’t want to overdo the washing of hair as it gets thinner and too much washing can damage it.

What are some reasons making my loved one not want to bathe ?

The reasons for an elderly loved one not bathing can be many, here are a few which may be causing the issue:

  • cost – your loved ones may have a limited budget which simply doesn’t extend to paying for frequent baths/showers and grooming supplies
  • boredom – if your parent doesn’t do a lot, they may be getting bored, and one day will just drift into another, and they may simply not realize that it has been some time since they bathed
  • isolation – when a person doesn’t get out much and see other people, they can feel that there isn’t much point in keeping up appearances
  • not enough time to do everything – your loved one will be slowing down a great deal with age, but they will still have most of the same chores, and so they will have to pick and choose what the priorities are, and bathing, maybe it isn’t one
  • keep catching cold – due to poorer circulation the elderly tend catch cold more easily than younger folk, and this can be a problem for them when bathing
  • fatigue – a lack of energy could be the cause 
  • fear – the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house, with 80% of all falls occurring there, and you loved one may be afraid of having a mishap, so may be bathing less – if you feel that your parent is afraid of falling, take a look at my article “54 bathroom safety tips for seniors: ahelpful guide”
  • loss of dignity – it could be the case that your elderly parent has wanted to ask for help, but that they feel it is demeaning to have to do so, and they feel they will loose their dignity
  • pain associated with a lack of mobility – conditions such as arthritis, or other knee and hip problems, can make stepping in and out of the shower, or bathtub , or even just moving around, too painful for a frequent regime of washing
  • lack of strength or dexterity – if your loved one hands are weak or lacking in dexterity this can be the cause of a lack of personal care
  • depression – this can be a factor in an elderly loved one losing their interest in bathing and other personal grooming tasks
  • dementia – people suffering from dementia can suffer from short term memory loss in the first stages, but may go on to not even know how to perform the what were once the easiest of tasks
  • memory loss – most seniors will have some short term memory loss if they get to a ripe old age, and a simple chart will help them to keep track of when they last bathed
  • reluctance to loose control – our parents may be fearing that they are going to lose the control of their lives if they have to ask us for help with tasks such as personal care, and may see it as one of the stages to loosing their independence in their own home
  • sight and hearing difficulties –  loss, or partial loss, of sight or hearing can lead to a person having to move more slowly so as not to hurt themselves, and this can lead to all the  personal care tasks taking a lot longer, and being done less frequently
  • loss of sense of smell – your loved ones may simply have a diminished sense of smell and not be aware that they need a wash, and if you combine this with a little memory loss, it’s easy to see how they haven’t gotten round to bathing for a few days

Elderly bathing services

In cases where you will not be able to help your elderly parent with their bathing routine, or other aspects of their personal hygiene, or where your loved one would rather that their child didn’t undertake these duties, and would prefer a professional, you can hire carers to come and help.

These services for bathing and other types of personal care are usually offered by In-home Care Providers.

These are non-medical services, and you can contact your Area Agency on Aging to find out about the providers in your area.

The idea of In-Home Care Assistance is to keep the elderly living in their own homes.

You will find that depending on your parent’s income, these services may even be supported by Medicaid under the Medicaid State Plan PCA Programs (Personal Care Attendant) which exist to help individuals who need some personal assistance, and to provide that in their homes.

If you don’t like the idea of having a service come in, you can try some of the strategies that I outline in my article “75+ Caregiver tips: How to convince an elderly person to bathe ?”

Summing Up…

Under normal circumstances, your elderly parent will be fine bathing once or twice a week.

It is only when there are issues of incontinence, or dementia, that it really becomes important to wash each day, and to make sure that there is no bacteria causing skin infections.

I’m Gareth and I’m the owner of Looking After Mom and

I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.

Gareth Williams

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How often should an elderly person bathe ?
To avoid any skin breaks or infections, it’s a good idea for an elderly person to bathe at least once or twice a week. This doesn’t mean that it has to be a full bath or shower, it can also be a simple a sponge bath.
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