Bathing the Elderly

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How do you get an elderly parent to take a bath or shower, when they refuse to do so? Do you have any ideas or suggestions that would help me? My brother and I are at our wits end with this problem. Thank you for any help you may have.

197 Comments

since we schedule doctors, visiting nurses, physical therapist, etc... on the calender, i would try using the calender a an appointment to shower..
Some senior centers and day care centers give showers. Also would using some nice smelling bath wash help and also make sure the room is warm-older people hate to be cold- is there a chair in the tub.
I am having to deal with my parents in the assisted living facility not bathing. For my dad its an issue of the dementia. I found that he responds to notes, so he is getting easier to deal with when it comes to showering.

However, the real problem becomes mom. For her it is an issue of control. First I dealt with her starving herself (she went down to 74 lbs at 5' 2") and now that issue is done (meds are great). Now she won't shower, which absolutely floors me. She has been immaculate all her life and bathed all the time. Now its definitely out of spite she won't do it.

My mother in the past 6 months was admitted twice to geriatric psych and was diagnosed with "extreme severe depression". It was not because she was lacking, I had an attorney around, doctors, etc who diagnosed her as competent.... it was on purpose (not the depression). Every decision she made she was coherent to a certain level, but I had to give the "okay" she could make those decisions. Its weird. Mom still cannot admit that dad has Alzheimer's and it has made her daily life extremely difficult, and one that has left her totally out of control.... so now the control is down to bathing.

I went to go have a talk with mom because the assisted living kept calling me to talk to her and mom doesn't listen to me. Actually if I say anything, she digs her feet in harder not to do it. So I went to talk to mom and basically told her that the facility was getting an audit from the health department checking records and that she was marked down as not having one for months. Mom got ticked off with me, said a few nasty things and threw me out of her apartment.

I don't know what I'm supposed to do. According to the geriatric psychiatrist, I'm supposed to give mom consequences for her behavior (one's I can live with), and now I'm having to play hard ball. I don't like it one iota.... but she's backed me into a corner. Anyone else have this kind of issue? As of this posting the nursing administrators believe she has taken a shower, but we're not sure how frequently they will happen. They want her to take one a week. Am I the only one that is ready to scream?
I'm screaming with you! I've just joined this group, wish I had found it 2 years ago! We care for my husband's parents. And the body odor is just about to make me sick. I can't get my husband to talk to his dad about taking a shower or at least putting on clean clothes. I don't want to embarrass the man, but when you can smell him coming...any suggestions?
The only thing that works with my mom is to tell her she is starting to STINK. She will go 4-5 days without a shower just because her dementia doesn't allow her to realize the days are passing. Hope that helps a little - Lira
My dad responds to notes. So I left him one that he promised to take one before he went to breakfast. He took one and then forgets he cleaned and washes himself again. So the forgetting also can work in your favor! :) Mom on the other hand... threats work.
Despite there being special handhold fixtures in the bath, my mother is apparently afraid of falling. Yes, she often forgets to shower, but if I ask her to and offer to help her in and out, she most always will agree. This is, she prefers baths to showers (and so do I really) but with the glass doors instead of a shower curtin, that is harder for her to do.

Anyway, my point is that it could be that some seniors aren't bathing because they are afraid of falling.
After my dad refusing to bathe for 11 days and the odor becoming horrendous, my husband and I had to physically undress him and lift him into the shower. He was angry and scared and it was so demeaning....I told my mom that I absolutely could not do that again, and we hired a home health aide to come in and bathe him. Yes, there is a cost involved, but it has been worth it...she's now part of his routine and he gladly gets in the shower for her and is happy to see her. I know this won't work for everyone, but it worked for us. We're just too close to the situation sometimes and need to step back where we can.
My mother has some dementia and at 90 is frail elderly. She can't walk unassisted. She is compliant and my heart really goes out to you who are dealing with Alzheimer folks.

If you can't get them in the bath or shower, try sponge bathing them. Offer to help with dressing them and have water and a wash cloth handy. There are cleansers that don't require rinsing. Ditto for hair. Use the warm washcloth on one arm/armpit and then dry it. It can be like bathing a cat :) and you may not get all of it done at once but some is better than none in my plans. My mother loves it when I put lotion on her legs and feet.

My mom also loves getting her face washed in the morning and at night. I help her get the toothpaste on her toothbrush and she brushes her teeth, get her partial plate in, glasses, hearing aide. Then we're ready for breakfast! Food is a motivator.

I got my mother a foot soaker a while back and she really likes it. It's like a mini jacuzzi. She has such tough toenails that I have to soak them before I can cut them.

I agree that it is worth the money to have a home healthcare worker come in to do some of these jobs esp bathing. I also agree that many elderly are afraid of falling in the shower or bath. The benches that fit in the shower stall are great. Consider getting a hand held shower nozzle which makes it easier to rinse when they are sitting down.

Julie Q
I also share your pain. My 94 year old mother is fairly reasonable with everything except bathing. She always says she just had one yesterday. She often becomes verbally combative and abusive when I try to get her to bathe. I have tried the Home Health Aids but she won't respond to them either. She has the complete set up in the tub including hand grips and shower seat. It seems the fear of falling is not the issue, it is getting her to understand that she needs to shower once a week and to understand that a week has passed. What is amazing is that once I get her into the shower, she enjoys it and has even told me she enjoys me pampering her. I always set her hair after the shower and put lotion on her feet and legs and spray her with a nice bath oil and put powder on her. I put a towel on the plastic shower seat to make it warmer and more comfortable.

I have found that the best way to handle the situation is to try to find a time in the afternoon when she is in a good mood and suggest a bath to her as relaxing. If that doesn't work, I tell her to rest and I will be back in a little while to help her bathe. If that doesn't work, I have to get firm with her and tell her that I am not young anymore either and that her behavior affects me and upsets me which is not good for my health. Usually her motherly instinct kicks in and although she is still upset, she will usually head toward the bathroom. I also purchased a small fan forced heater for the bathroom since she gets cold easily especially since the water is not running on her constantly while bathing on a shower seat. The heater has really improved her comfort level. I also have a chair lined with a towel outside the tub for her to sit on to undress before she showers and dry off after the shower.

But as I said originally, the problem is not the bath itself, it is getting her to agree to take a bath. I have tried notes stating today is bath day as well as pinning a calendar to the bathroom door and boldly marking the days she has bathed but these methods don't work well. Does anyone have any ideas how to make her realize that she needs to bathe?

Ann L

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