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How to Help A Parent Who Refuses to Bathe or Shower

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:


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.


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.


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