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How Often Should An Elderly Person Bathe ?

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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 ?  An elderly person should bathe a minimum of once a week, so long as the person is cleaning their private parts and under their arms with soap and water on the days between baths or showers.

On the days that your loved ones don’t take 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 overwash, as their skin is thinner and more sensitive than a younger person.

The skin produces fewer 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 bathing once or twice a week minimum ?

 

Elderly loved one’s 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 fewer 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 having a greasy or grassy smell, and will linger for some time in cloth, so it stays on clothes and bed linen.

If you smell nonenal 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 should a woman take a bath or shower ?

 

If the lady is elderly and not incontinent, bathing once or twice a week should be fine, so long as she washes her private parts daily and takes good care to cleanse her perineal area properly every day to make sure she doesn’t get a urinary tract infection.

Taking showers is possibly more healthy for the skin than bathing, as you are not seated in water which can have bacteria from you washing your skin, but I have no idea whether the risk of falls is greater in a bathtub or in a shower.

As I said before, skin gets fragile with age, so you don’t want to over do it and dry the oils out resulting in lots of skin tears.

It’s also a good idea to find a good moisturizer for elderly skin and to use that to hydrate and soften the skin, which will keep it more supple and less prone to tearing.

Moisturizers with antioxidants and vitamins C and E are beneficial to the skin.

For younger women, every other day is fine for showering and is better for the skin, unless of course you have a heavy, dirty and sweaty job.

 

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 fewer 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.

Why do the elderly not want to bathe ?

 

The reasons for an elderly loved one not bathing can be many, here are just some reasons which may be causing the problems:

 

  • 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 to 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 your 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: a helpful 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 lose 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 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 lose 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

When you’re showering the person –

 

  • do everything gently and calmly
  • have the person check the water before they get into the shower
  • describe every step you are about to take before you do so
  • 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
  • maybe play some music they like to sing to, and have a sing along as they shower
  • if the person gets distressed or anxious, you can also save the music for them and use it to keep them engaged to distract them from their anxieties
  • if the person 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 – at first they may wish to wear a towel into the shower which they will later discard when they feel comfortable
  • always let the person do everything they are capable of doing without help
  • don’t let the person get cold
  • if the person does not like washing their hair, then don’t do it at the same time as showering, or else they will associate the two, and make a fuss every time they have to shower even though they are not washing their hair

How to convince an elderly person to bathe ?

 

To convince an elderly person to bathe, you first have to know why they don’t want to bathe, and as I suggested in the last section there may any number of reasons.

Once you have an idea though of the problem, you can then go ahead and set about working out how you are going to convince them to bathe.

 

So let’s take a look at how to go about convincing your parent to bathe –

 

  • if your parent or loved one is simply afraid of the bathroom because of safety issues, you can help them install any equipment necessary
  • you may have to just offer to go to their home and sit in another room while they shower, so if there is a problem you are on hand to help – this will give them confidence
  • if they are suffering from fatigue and feel they have no time to get it all done, then take away some of the other things they have to do – i.e. help them with chores, do the shopping for them or go along with them
  • if they have no social life and are bored or see no reason to make the effort, then arrange to take them out to see old friends, or to make new ones – give them a good reason to bathe
  • if they have memory loss, make them a bathing and hygiene check list and help them set up a routine
  • if your parent hasn’t wanted to ask for help as they find it demeaning, then just gently ask them if they need help with anything, try to squeeze out a request for help slowly
  • if you can’t get them to ask for help, maybe ask a friend of theirs to talk with them – it may be much easier for them to talk with a friend than their child

 

Now, this is only a brief introduction to the subject, so if you want to find out more, I have a long article on the subject “75 Caregiver Tips: How To Convince An Elderly Person To Bathe ?” with lots of suggestions and strategies for convincing your parent, or other elderly loved one, to start bathing regularly.

 

Personal hygiene checklist ?

 

If your parents want you to help and need a personal hygiene checklist, here are some basic pointers –

 

  • don’t take over – let your parents tell you what they want
  • allow privacy whenever you can
  • make a schedule and establish a routine
  • install any necessary safety items in the bathroom
  • lay everything out ahead of time and heat rooms up
  • if you are helping your parent with bathing, you must go at their pace
  • keep all areas dry
  • have a cloth or towel for covering private areas
  • have lots of moisturizers on hand for after bathing
  • dry toes properly and delicately after bathing
  • foot creams – try to stop hard areas forming on the
  • feet and toes
  • don’t forget dental hygiene – do they need help

 

You can adapt the checklist if it is for you to help your parent with bathing, or if it is just for them to remind themselves of the things that they need to be doing regularly.

How to get an Alzheimer’s patient to take a shower ?

 

It will always be easiest if you stick to established routines in the life of someone who suffers with any form of dementia, and it is the same for showering, my father had always showered, and so I helped him shower at the time of day he had done so all his life –

  • so find out when the person you are helping used to shower
  • make sure they showered and didn’t take a bath
  • what is the soap and shampoo they like
  • do they have a favorite towel etc

 

Now you need to set up the bathroom

You need everything arranged ahead so that you don’t have to disappear to find an item, leaving what may be a vulnerable person on their own in the shower –

 

  • create a nice calm atmosphere in the bathroom
  • have the bathroom heated to a good temperature, so the person showering doesn’t catch cold
  • make sure there is good lighting
  • set out the bathroom so that everything is within reach of both yourself and the person you will be helping to shower
  • have a shower caddy in which you have all the different supplies hanging in the shower
  • make sure that the shower head is hand held, so it is easy to spray areas without the person moving
  • have a good shower chair for the person to sit on if they are unsteady and a non-slip shower mat
  • have grab bars in the shower if the person needs something to hold onto
  • have soap on a rope, or a gel soap bottle, as it is easier to hold onto those than a slippery bar of soap which may fall on the floor
  • if the person doesn’t recognize their own reflection anymore, cover any mirrors, as they may feel a stranger is washing them
  • if you are going to dress the person in the bedroom afterwards, do heat that up as well
  • have all the clothes the person will wear after the shower laid out in the order they will be putting them on

 

When you’re showering the person –

 

  • do everything gently and calmly
  • have the person check the water before they get into the shower
  • describe every step you are about to take before you do so
  • 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
  • maybe play some music they like to sing to, and have a sing along as they shower
  • if the person gets distressed or anxious, you can also save the music for them and use it to keep them engaged to distract them from their anxieties
  • if the person 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 – at first they may wish to wear a towel into the shower which they will later discard when they feel comfortable
  • always let the person do everything they are capable of doing without help
  • don’t let the person get cold
  • if the person does not like washing their hair, then don’t do it at the same time as showering, or else they will associate the two, and make a fuss every time they have to shower even though they are not washing their hair

If the person is afraid of water on their face –

 

  • you can use a wash cloth which takes less water
  • the person may like a shower visor which stops the water running over the face

 

If the person is so afraid of water that they refuse to shower, you can –

 

  • use rinse-free bath concentrate which requires no water and can be wiped clean with a damp towel
  • 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 will not 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

 

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 nonmedical 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 are no bacteria causing skin infections.

I’m Gareth and I’m the owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com

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

Gareth Williams

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