Many adult children of senior parents find themselves in the frustrating position of fighting with them about showering and bathing. Some say it’s like arguing with a two year old at bath time! Bathing is actually a common struggle between seniors and their caregivers.
So why do elderly adults refuse to shower? – There are multiple reasons that could contribute to the problem
8 Common Reasons Seniors Refuse To Shower:
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s – these diseases cause impeded memory and loss of judgement and reasoning.
- It’s uncomfortable – the shower chair or bench may not be comfortable or perhaps it’s too cold.
- Depression – a common sign of depression is not keeping up with personal hygiene.
- Control – many seniors feel a loss of control as they age so when they are told to do something – they want to exert some control and refuse.
- Fear of falling – falls are “…the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans.” – (CDC.gov)
- Modesty – many older parents find it difficult to have family members help them with their personal needs such as bathing and toileting.
- Decreased sense of smell – our senses tend to dull as we age so it may not be apparent that one needs to bathe.
- Poor memory – seniors with poor memories tend to confabulate and believe that they’ve recently bathed when in fact they have not.
If the senior loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s – that may complicate matters even more simply because it may be difficult to reason with them or for them to follow instructions.
How Often Should An Elderly Person Shower?
It’s generally accepted that older adults should shower at least once or twice a week. This will help to prevent any problems with skin infections and possible UTIs.
But of course, each individual person is different so specific circumstances must be taken into account.
Contrary to what many individuals believe, it’s not always necessary to shower every single day. Of course, most people shower more when the weather is hot and they sweat but many seniors do not or are not able to participate in activities that cause them to sweat.
How Often Should An Elderly Person Wash Their Hair?
Again, each person has their own specific set of circumstances to consider but generally speaking – washing their hair once a week is considered to be enough.
How To Convince Someone To Take A Shower
So, what helps elderly people to shower? What can a caregiver do to convince their senior loved one to shower or to take a bath?
Following are 8 tips that may help you.
1. Be Patient
It’s very easy to lose your patience with someone especially if they seem to be unreasonable – which can certainly happen if they have dementia or Alzheimer’s or if they are just being plain stubborn.
But, patience is important because you want to avoid escalating emotions which can easily derail your overall goal.
One thing you can do is to try to talk about it – if possible. Remember that if your senior loved one does have dementia or Alzheimer’s you want to keep your sentences as short as possible and to the point.
If you can understand WHY they are refusing you may be able to compromise or maneuver around it. For example, if you find out that they get cold when they bathe then installing an overhead heat lamp may solve the issue. Or if they insist that they took a bath this morning (but they did not) then you can begin using a calendar or setting up some type of reminder (like Alexa) to help them.
The important thing is to avoid arguing and instead to use positive reinforcement and rewards. An example would be “Let’s take a shower now and then we’ll have some ice cream.” Of course, this works best when dealing with someone with cognitive impairments.
2. Talk With Your Elderly Parents
Even if your senior parents are not suffering from some cognitive decline – you still want to have a discussion with them about WHAT the problem(s) may be with bathing or showering.
You may find out that the room is too cold (especially during winter months) or that they are having trouble turning the faucet on and off or that they can’t hold the soap or shampoo bottle, etc. There are many little factors that could contribute to their decision.
Once you identify what the problem(s) are then you can get to work on resolving the situation.
3. Use The Right Equipment In The Shower / Bathtub
There are many different types of gadgets and equipment that can be used to make showering / bathing so much easier, safer and more pleasant for older adults.
Here’s our list of recommended products:
- Grab Bars – Grab bars are usually the very first home remodeling project that older adults and/or their family caregivers undertake as someone grows older and plans to age in place. There are many wonderful varieties these days so take a look at some that we recommend.
- Shower Faucet Levers – For anyone with arthritic hands, there are some shower faucet levers that are difficult to manage. This would be a very easy home modification to make to give some more independence to the resident senior.
- Flexible Shower Heads – Flexible shower heads with customizable mounting brackets are excellent for seniors who need a shower chair or bench. It’s a safe way to take a shower and keep as much independence as possible.
- Transfer Benches and Shower Chairs – Many older adults use shower benches and shower chairs – it’s a great precautionary product that allows you to have as much independence as possible.
- Bathtub Lifts – If getting in and out of a traditional bathtub is difficult, then consider putting in a bathtub lift. This portable product makes it easier for you to get into and out of a tub safely.
- Soap and Shampoo Dispensers – A product that I have always recommended since they first came out many years ago was some kind of wall mounted dispenser. It eliminates the need for multiple bottles in the shower, gives you a clear view of how much is left in each container and best of all, it’s very easy to use for someone with poor hand strength and dexterity.
- Shower Stall Hooks – If you need somewhere in the shower to hang something like a loofah sponge I can tell you that I have been using these strong suction hooks by Hasko in my own shower for years and they are amazing.
- Shower Stall Organizers – I personally am not a fan of having multiple bottles and products in a shower stall simply because these items can be dropped and picking them up could cause an elderly person to fall. But – if you are comfortable with these things in your shower then I would recommend an organizer like this one which is secured with tension to the ceiling and the ground. As long as you are confident that your senior loved one will NOT use it as a grab bar.
- Overhead Heat Lamp – A must have for many seniors living in cold weather climates.
- Toilet safety rails or raised toilet seats to make it easier and safer for the senior to take care of personal needs.
- Glass shower doors can be a safer option than a shower curtain.
4. Use A Calendar
For elderly parents with memory problems – using a physical calendar or Alexa’s reminders may help.
I remember working with an elderly woman who had mild memory problems. She used a wall calendar in her bathroom as her reminder tool. She would “x” out the day on the calendar only AFTER she had taken a shower (she took daily showers). This not only helped her to remember if she had showered that day but it also helped to orient her to the date.
5. Music and/or Aromatherapy
Most everyone can relax a bit more with soothing music and/or some pleasant aromatherapy. If your elderly parent or senior loved one responds to these stimuli then certainly use them to your advantage.
6. Hire A Professional Aide
Your parents may be too modest to have family members help them to bathe, and that’s certainly understandable. So, if that is the case then it may be easier for them to accept help from a professional nursing assistant or health care aide.
7. Be Respectful Of Their Privacy
If your elderly parent is okay with you helping them during shower or bath time – then do your best to respect their privacy by providing them with a towel or robe as much as possible throughout the process. Give them the chance to wash themselves as much as possible and avoid “taking over” the job for them.
This will require patience on your part as well as some extra time but it will go a long way in helping them to feel more comfortable.
8. Friends Can Help
If your parents still talk and interact with their friends frequently, then ask for their help. Friends can unconsciously help a person bathe by saying a few choice phrases.
For example, if it is time for your parents to bathe, then have their friends call and tell them to jump in the shower and get ready so that they can go out and eat or go to the movies or simply to just come on over. Or perhaps, the friend could say that SHE is coming over to visit or for lunch.
Your parents may be so excited to leave the house or to have some company and hang out with their friends that they will not think twice about bathing.
Many caregivers struggle with their elderly parents or senior loved ones refusing to shower or bathe but please know that it’s a very common problem.
I would strongly recommend to you to join a caregivers group to get reassurance from other caregivers and also maybe learn a thing or two of how others have achieved some piece of mind over this issue.
But certainly, patience is a big factor that will help you to get through this time in your life and also understanding of why your senior loved one is resisting.
Do your best to comprehend how they are thinking and perhaps you may be able to resolve the problem and get them to shower more frequently without having an argument over it!