How to Help A Parent Who Refuses to Bathe or Shower

November 10, 2017

Senior man washing his body with soap in bath

With advancing age, our parents—or loved one—may be reluctant to shower or bathe. Though disease and illness are often to blame, there are many other reasons we may never understand.

Unfolding the Mystery Behind the “Bathing Battle”

Here’s a list of some reasons the elderly may have for not bathing:

  • They may experience pain while standing, bending or sitting.
  • They may have a fear of water and/or its sound—this is especially true for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • They may fear falling on hard   bathroom due to poor balance.
  • If the water temperature is too warm or cool, they may hesitate because of a fear of discomfort.
  • Both standing for a shower or getting in and out of a bathtub can be very difficult for the elderly and they may be fearful of it.
  • The simple task of bathing or showering can be an exhausting task for the elderly.

 

Solve the “Bathing Battle” with these tips

Bathing regularly and maintaining personal hygiene is key to staying healthy and refreshed. Not showering or bathing for several days can lead to infections, which become increasingly difficult to treat in the elderly. Understanding the problem and helping our loved one bathe should be the goal.

Tips to Help Get Your Loved One to Bathe or Shower

Try talking about it

Communication is key to understanding the actual reasons behind not bathing. You need to determine if it’s a function of fear, pain, discomfort or simple forgetfulness. In many cases, it may just be they simply don’t want to.

Ask their healthcare provider

When a conversation doesn’t help, contacting a healthcare provider may help you determine the actual reason someone refuses to bathe. He/she can help you understand the ins and outs of their medical condition and may provide you with alternatives to bathing…such as a sponge bath.

Set reminders for the patient

If dementia is the reason for not bathing, you can prepare notes to post around the house. Stick them on bathroom doors or walls to remind them to shower or bathe.

Ask family and friends to help

If your loved one continues to enjoy the company of family and friends, try getting them involved too. For example—if your parent is in no mood to shower or bathe, have a friend call inviting them to go out. Your parent may be so excited about spending time out of the house, they may just want to quickly shower or bathe to get ready to leave for a day out.

Purchase shower equipment

Bathing or showering can become an exhausting experience for the elderly and getting in and out of the bathtub can be difficult. To make it a comfortable and enjoyable experience, consider purchasing a shower chair or bath lift chair. Having a grab bar installed can instill a sense of security. And, of course, a rubber mat helps prevent accidental falls in the bathroom.

Be patient and go slow

Most people don’t like being rushed, and as people age, they are more likely to want to do everything at their own pace. So, be advised—go slow and allow them to do things in their own time.

Be encouraging

If your loved one is reluctant to bathe, no kind of reasoning with him/her will work, so we need to get creative and come up with ways to encourage them to bathe. It doesn’t help at all to push them because they might become rebellious and refuse to listen to you at all.

Some More Tips & Tools for Getting Your Loved One to Bathe

Give them choices

Rather than instructions, begin a conversation by asking whether they’d like to bathe or shower? Try giving them the option of bathing right away or after having their breakfast or watching their favorite TV program.

Study their reaction

When you take your loved one to the bathroom, fill the tub with 2-3 inches of water—or turn on the shower—and wait for their reaction. If they become agitated, drop the idea of bathing them that day. If, however, they seem comfortable, fill in more water after they’ve gotten in.

A soothing distraction

Patients suffering from Alzheimer’s can find bathing threatening. Sometimes, planning a distraction ahead of time—something as simple as soothing music—can calm them down.

Respect their privacy

While helping our loved ones bathe, respect their privacy and keep them covered with a towel or robe. Be flexible and understanding. If a parent wants to get into the tub with their clothes on, let them. The goal is to get them involved in the experience. When they’re engaged, they will enjoy bath time.

Conclusion

Refusal to bathe is just one concern facing family caregivers, but we need to understand that as they age, it is harder and harder to satisfy our loved ones. Therefore, to get the job done, we need to stay patient and go slow. Remember, communication is key to determining the exact reason for the refusal to shower or bathe. Getting to the root of the problem will lead us to the steps we need to take to make bath time comfortable and even enjoyable for them.

 

Written by Tena Scallan
Tena Scallan is a passionate healthcare professional, business owner and published with over 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry. She’s dedicated her life to working in hospitals, running her own in-home caregiving agency and providing coaching and guidance for family caregivers. Tena firmly believes that both home and lifestyle can be preserved with in-home, compassionate caregiving in the face of aging or illness.

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41 Comments

  1. Managing a bathroom which may not accomodate a senior or disabled person with vision, gait, balance and personal issues is a deterrent. Our job is to foster independence for a long as possible. Sometimes a walk in tub is necessary. Reminders and rewards make a big difference. Also, a person needs to be assisted, not controlled.

    Reply
  2. my mother is 67 years old she sleeps all the time never eats she will drink her diet coke she never gets out of bed only to go to the bathroom she never bathes and i am worried about my sister thinks she has dementia which i am douting it because i think my sister is just wanting us to come live with her my stepdad works all the time i can’t help my mom because i am not able

    Reply
    • My mother was just like that. To protect yourself from charges of “elder” abuse document every refusal and have a day to day journal. Every …..week contact the medical provider of what happened that week.
      You will destroy yourself if you allow this person to live with you.

      Reply
  3. For those loved ones who may feel embarrassed to be naked in the presence of a caregiver, try a dignity garment, such as the Honor Guard. This made the difference for my mom.

    Reply
  4. I took care of my mother for the last 3 years of her life. She had dementia and 2 weeks before her passing we got told by doctors she had colon cancer that had spread to her liver. Before the dementia my mom wouldnt shower often, certain circumstances got in the way. But when i started caring for her, I was able to get her bathe regularly. As her condition worsened and not knowing about the cancer, I would lift her and carry her to the bath, clean her up, dry her off, carry her back to her bed, and dress her. She didnt give me a hard time about bathing.

    Reply
  5. Amanda Pearre Nicolazzo this could help you in the future!!! Lol

    Reply
  6. My phone won’t open the link. My dad does not like to bath either. He cannot walk so it is my job. He will fight me on it. Now his skin is so flaky and dry. I put regular moisturizing lotion on him but it does not help. Any suggestions on moisturizing and getting that dead skin off when his skin tears so easy?

    Reply
    • Try rubbing coconut oil on his arms and legs. That’s what I use on my Mom. She’s completely bedridden and the regular bottled lotions had begun to break her out. Vaseline worked for a while, but we tried coconut oil on some sore spots she had on her legs and it worked wonderfully.

      Reply
    • The only thing that worked for me was soaking my Mom in the tub, easier to get off the dead skin and after moisturizing with a heavy body cream. Of course getting them in the bath is a battle.

      Reply
    • Yeah he would be terrified and screaming and cussing. I thought about trying a heavy body cream also. We shall see. Thanks for your input.

      Reply
  7. My mom forgot how to bath. She would just turn the water on then come out 2 min. later. As her illness progressed I would shower her a few times a wk. Now after about 3 years she is total care and doesn’t walk. I bath her in bed since I don’t have an accessible shower/tub for her. It works, but it’s what I have.

    Reply
  8. Can you do a similar article on medication? As in, how to get them to properly take their meds as prescribed? Thanks!

    Reply
    • If they can be crushed, (not anything that’s long acting), just crush it and put it in a small amount of oatmeal, gravy or applesauce for breakfast (then do the full portion), ice cream & pudding for lunch and night time meds 🙂

      Reply
    • I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but I set up Alexa to remind her to take her meds when I’m not right there to remind her. It is working. My best to you. I commend you for your caring so much.It is a gift.

      Reply
    • Ugh and sigh… I have weekly battles re what we each think she should take. It’s like this: Your 4-yr-old refuses to eat his broccoli. You bribe, beg, threaten to take something else away, cover the goddamn broccoli in sugar, etc… then throw up your hands and give up. Then, he seems to be eating the broccoli finally, but you find out it’s the dog (or trash can or some random place), not the kid, that has consumed the goddamn broccoli. Sorry for the profanity.

      Reply
    • Aimee Kover works with seniors… maybe she has some ideas for you.

      Reply
      • My husband is 82 and has been showering once a week, its just not often enough because he starts to have an order. He is still very bright and still works. Please what can i do, this morning he got very angry. Please help me

    • Thanks Arnie Kover. I just figured you guys have been through so much yourselves that I didn’t want to bug ya. Let me IM Aimee Kover with phone so she can call at her convenience.

      Reply
  9. it’s been almost a year since my mom (who has alz) stopped bathing. every time i tried to talk to her about it, she would insist that she already showered and would argue with me until i give up. so yes, finally i gave up!i’m tired of crying and getting upset!

    Reply
    • Give her a soapy wash cloth and ask her to hit the high spots since you weren’t able to “help her” with the shower she’d “already taken” and just let her go. Maybe she’ll huff & puff but agree to do that :/

      Reply
    • thanks, will try that

      Reply
    • I established a deadline in my own mind for mom to shower. She claims she “just did”. She can be spiteful. We do not have a relationship where I can help with this task. She will not listen to anyone. Finally called a hospital affiliated home health agency. Nurse came out to do assessment. Put it on mom’s calendar. Mom pissed, Warned nurse not to come, she said she would anyhow. Observed mom (age 95 with dementia) and her physical activity level and concluded to leave it alone. Yes, seriously. Said they had seen people go YEARS. Felt I had nurses blessing and learned to let it go, grateful that mom does not smell and that I do not have to sleep with her LOL. Interesting that day nurse was out…mom showered on her own…or so we think…but that was the last time, 4 months ago.

      Reply
    • your mom and mine seem to have the same behavioral problem. my mom is also stubborn and doesn’t listen to anyone. We tried hiring a caregiver to help but mom told her to go home because she said she doesnt need one.

      Reply
    • My Mom was refusing baths, while she was still on a walker ( later became bed ridden ), I stood right in front of her and wouldn’t allow her to pass, she had to get in the bath or else. She got really mad but I got her in the bath. She was also like this with eating, this was more of an issue because she became very thin and we had to put in a feeding tube.

      Reply
    • Jac David you could try the BATH wipes, those are helpful for the ones that you just can’t get to bathe.

      Reply
    • Rahzel Chan thanks will try, but my mom is really difficult. she just says no to everything.

      Reply
    • Used the bath wipes and shower caps with rinse free
      Shampoo inside for my bedridden mother.

      Reply
  10. I hired an aide to come in several times aweek on her way to work and he loved the attention.

    Reply
  11. I used to cry to get my mom in the shower it would take 20/30 minutes but I understood she was scared like a little girl love her so much

    Reply
  12. My husband loves a shower, it is just very hard with his advanced PD. We put a small space heater and that helps but the bathroom can only be updated so much. We have a bench and bars, he just cannot move well. It is difficult at best however we manage.

    Reply
  13. I have to bribe my mom to bathe.

    Reply
  14. I just gave up on trying to get bro to shower. He will wash up using those liquid soaps we became familiar with in the rehabs. Foaming body cleansers. There are a few brands. It does take him 1.5 hours but he’s doing it himself (I wash his back) and he feels so much better after.

    Reply
    • Great! There is nothing wrong with this method! There are many reasons older people don’t like to shower every day or two. I could get my mom to take a shower a couple times per week by building a fire in the fireplace. She got so cold and tired that eventually we just did once per week. And she thought it was a bother for me. I couldn’t persuade her that it wasn’t.

      Reply
    • That’s what I do also. Attends makes very nice disposable adult washcloths, I use those a lot.

      Reply
  15. I’m lucky if I can get my dad to bathe. I came home from the hospital, and it nearly blew me over. I had to demand he take one before helping me take care of myself after major surgery. Now, it is trying to get him to the hairdresser’s so we can change his ‘Uni-bomber’ look to ‘Crazy Sexy’. I know he’s nuts, the dr knows he is nuts. We might as well do it with style and have fun with it. Well, that is the angle I’m going with to motivate him. o.O Btw, the bathroom is fully equiped with everything to help him shower safely. It was one of the first things I ensured before we moved in. Hand rails, detachable small shower head, the floor is non-slip, he wears special sandals to ensure it, and a place to sit. It is a tiny shower stall, so on the rails, I picked up 2 tiny baskets from Easter & shower curtain rings to hand them off the rails to hold our soap and cloths.

    Reply
    • Even with all that he may 1) be afraid 2) get cold 3) get tired from showering. All 3 are common. Also remember when he was growing up it isn’t likely he bathed every day. Daily or multiple time per week bathing is a fairly recent habit of Americans.

      Reply

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