Compromise isn't an option, ever.

Started by

My mother will not bathe. It has been a year and a half since she has showered. She "supposedly" bathes at the sink, which she was doing at first. Now however, she does not, and we can tell because she smells. She wears a cath for urinating, and has trouble with number two. She had a failed back operation three years ago, and was able to walk behind a walker when she first came home (which is why we agreed to let her come home. We had her in Assisted Living for a year before that. Now that she has been home for a year, she is progressively getting worse by her own choice. First she refused to walk, and would only do a wheelchair, now she is refusing to get out of bed most of the time. She gets very irate when we mention any bathing at all. She has a visting nurse come once every three weeks to change her cath and take vitals. She refuses anything else. My sis and I do everything else. She also has COPD, and smoking was one of the reasons why she wanted to go home and stay out of any assisted living. She does not do anything she is told "for her own good," and continually makes bad choices that affect my sis and I (because we have to pick up the pieces then). She is sharp as a tack (only 77) and never gives an inch. We have talked to her many times about bathing-offered to pay for someone to come in and do it for her, but she refuses. I guess my question is: How do you help someone that refuses to take help at every turn? This goes for doctor vistis, bathing, exercising (which has been told to do and also refuses-we have had PT come there numerous times), etc. AND how can a mother feel OK about having her children see her waste away, but not do anything to help herself? Is it "tough love" time?


Hi Jcda,
This is a hard one as you say your Mom is still with it mentally. My instinct, from what you posted, is to tell her if she makes bad choices she should , herself, have to pick up the pieces- not you or your sister. This may sound harsh but it sounds like right now she gets to do all the misbehaving and you get to face all the consequences.
Who buys her smokes? I bet I know the answer. You could use that as a way to get her to bathe. I am sure the best thing for her is to quit smoking but it sounds like that would be hard to do right now. I would concentrate on getting her to make some smaller positive changes first. Like bathing and some time out of the bed. If she is unwilling to bathe I would be unwilling to get her cigs or whatever she is asking you to get/do for her.
I would not neglect her basic needs, of course but the luxuries, the UN- necessary things,I would use them as bribes. And , as I said before, let her face her own consequences for some of her actions (if possible)

Hope this makes sense. Good luck. I know stubborn. My Mom is stubborn as is my girl. It can be exhausting!!
I agree with MishkaM's approach as long as your mom doesn't have either mental illness or dementia, which it sounds like you don't think she does. Could she be depressed? Is this type of giving up behavior normal for her, or is this something new? I'm amazed she hasn't gotten ill from not keeping herself cleaner. Does she live with you or on her own? I couldn't tell from your description. Does she say why she doesn't want to bathe?
If there's nothing physically or mentally wrong with her, it sounds like tough love time. She seems to be setting all the rules without even thinking of the long term consequences of which rules she picks. However, if she has dementia, then tough love won't work because her brain can't process the cause/effect part of it.

But before you get too tough, try to figure out why she won't bathe. She might be afraid. Bathing requires a lot of balance and coordination. If she won't get out of bed, it seems unlikely she has enough muscle tone to hold herself up in the shower or to get in and out of a traditional tub. Does she have a bathing chair for the shower? That might help.

Also, I don't like to shower in a cold bathroom. Make sure hers is a comfortable temperature and that the hot water isn't too hot. Also, check the faucet handle(s). If she has trouble adjusting the temperature between too hot and too cold, she probably won't bathe. I can't argue with that--I once canceled a gym membership because of that exact problem in the locker room.

Others on the site recommend adding a bidet kit to her toilet to make it easier to clean the personal areas, which you say are a problem. Or add a flexible shower sprayer and a stack of towels.

she is mortally declining and all your distaste isnt going to make her live to your standards which incidently may not impress her a bit. wash your own ass and mind your own affairs. when im 80'ish no one will tell me shit. they dont much now.. that sounds hateful but its just meant to be thought provoking.
shock - jock-ery..
You're a doodie head, captain. How's that for thought provoking? :P
If she was your child -- like 8 yo -- what would you do? Why on this earth are you enabling this miserable behavior? It does NO ONE any good!!!!!!
I bet if she has to get up and go buy cigarettes, she will get moving. And don't think that I haven't been there. I know it is awful. You have tried to reason with her, but you can't reason with the unreasonable.

My sister and I had to wait out the inevitable and wait until an ambulance had to be called for Mother. Then, the doctor would no longer allow her to return home, alone. Actually, Mother started cooperating then. I do suspect she had depression. She is in much better health now, 10 months later, at a nursing home.
Tell her " You stink, and if this skin fungus gets out of control you'll be back in the hospital" Get her MD to send an OT (occupational therapist) to teach her how to get safely in and out of the tub. Add a shower chair and grab rails as recommended by the OT. Hold your ground, mentally she is a five year old who will not bathe, so you need to handle her the same way.
I remember my mother not wanting to even change her house coat, or have us run her washing machine. I know what you are going through.
But that's the problem: no, she's not mentally a five year old, she's "77 and as sharp as a tack." Do not treat her like a child.

I agree with Blannie. Self-neglect in a cognitively well person rings depression alarm bells like nothing else. Tricky, because if she won't listen to you about bathing and hygiene I have no idea how you're going to get her in front of a mental health professional.

Hmm. The bit about how she can let her children watch her wasting away and do nothing to help herself… Really, she does sound very blue indeed. Also she must have a lot of physical pain to deal with which is depressing in itself (yes, I know, if she did her PT it would improve; but it's starting the virtuous circle that's the hard bit. It HURTS, as in ouch my back)… Can you speak to her doctors yourself and explain the whole picture? I don't think you can solve this one within the family.

Do not - DO NOT - do tough love until you have ruled out clinical depression on properly qualified advice. You risk being incredibly cruel. Good luck, please update x

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support