With advancing age, many seniors become reluctant to bathe. The reasons why can vary greatly from person to person. Though illness and disease are often to blame, for others it may be a case of embarrassment or depression.
Below, we’ll discuss those and other reasons your senior may be avoiding bath time.
With age, the senses of sight and smell decrease. Body odors and stains may be obvious to you, but your loved one may not even notice the most unpleasant smells. This is especially the case when it comes to their own odor, as people become “nose blind” to smells after only a few minutes of exposure.
Depression can make simple tasks seem like impossible feats–and while personal hygiene is important, those who are feeling down often cannot muster up the energy to do something as simple as brush their teeth.
If you notice that your senior is reluctant to bathe, it’s wise to rule out depression as the cause right up front. Keep an eye out for these other common warning signs and consider a trip to see their doctor.
Fear and pain
For many seniors, the bathroom can be a downright scary place–especially at bath time. Wet, slick floors are a recipe for disaster, and every bath or shower offers a new opportunity to slip and fall (perhaps breaking a hip, or worse). In addition, the bath itself can be uncomfortable for the elderly. Many seniors become cold easily, and joint pain can make it difficult to find a comfortable seated position.
For dementia patients, these issues are often amplified. Your loved one may not understand why there is water running on them and become afraid or hallucinate. They often don’t understand what you’re trying to do and think you want to hurt them.
Lack of control
As people age, they lose more and more control over their own lives. From driving a car to something as simple as opening a jar by themselves, lost abilities are a part of everyday life. The one thing elders often cling to longest is their own personal hygiene, and they can be very reluctant to give that up. For many, it can seem like a final step towards death and they fight it as long as they can.
Tips for helping a senior bathe
There are many different approaches once you’ve figured out why your senior is reluctant to shower or bathe. It can take some trial and error, and often involves compromise, but you can find a solution.
Here are some of our best tips:
Keep the environment safe
If your loved one is avoiding bath time out of fear, there are several things you can do to ease their mind.
• Check the water temperature beforehand to make sure it’s not too hot or cold
• Use a hand-held showerhead to avoid water on the face
• Make sure there is a rubber bath mat and safety bars in the tub
• Start by washing the least sensitive parts of the body first, such as feet & hands
• Keep toiletries and other supplies within easy reach
• Use a sturdy shower chair to help a senior who has trouble standing
• Keep the bathroom floor clean and dry to help avoid falls post-bath
• And, most importantly, NEVER leave your loved one alone
For many seniors, getting help with bathing is embarrassing. It’s vital to do what you can to help them feel comfortable.
• Use a large towel or shower curtain to cover your senior while they undress
• Keep a towel over their private areas while bathing and use a sponge or washcloth to clean underneath
• Give them a washcloth to hold and allow them to do as much as possible on their own
• Distract them with conversation if they become upset
• Note that sometimes it is less embarrassing for a senior to be bathed by a stranger, so bringing in a third party may help
Make hygiene fun
If you find yourself in a power struggle with an elder who simply will not bathe, try making it into a game. Bribery may seem silly, but sometimes the promise of something fun to look forward to can do the trick.
• Turn bath time into a “spa day” by using scented products and your loved one’s favorite lotions
• Get “spruced up” to go out to lunch or to a favorite park
• Reach out to an old friend and set up a special dinner date for bath day
• Put on some happy music and sing your way through bath time
• Don’t forget to say how wonderful they look and smell after their bath
If all else fails, compromise
Above all else, maintaining a loving, trusting relationship is key. When it comes to hygiene, sometimes you have to lower your standards and meet in the middle. Do not expect or insist on a bath or shower to happen every time it’s on the schedule: sometimes it’s just not going to work out.
If personal hygiene has become too overwhelming for you or your loved one, we can help. At ComForCare, we not only have the professional experience to ease your troubles, but we’ve been through it ourselves.
One of our favorite parts of the job is educating you and your family about senior health and caregiving. The more you know about the prognosis, care, and treatment of your family member’s condition, the more in control you can feel.