how to get elderly parents to bathe

How to Get Elderly Parents to Bathe

Why do the elderly not want to bathe?

Elderly parents have many reasons they may not wish to bathe. Life gets harder as you age, including self-care, as our bodies betray us, and every action takes more effort and precaution. Furthermore, the causes can include everything from psychological problems and early signs of dementia to no longer feeling safe and in control in the bathroom. Here are some of the common obstacles seniors face. 

Safety Concerns

The fear of falling or getting hurt is likely the most frequent cause for elderly persons to discontinue taking showers. Most bathrooms are made with younger people in mind. Taking a shower can be intimidating for people with limited mobility. They can be concerned that they will trip or fall while entering or exiting the shower or that they may be unable to maintain their balance while washing. 

Memory Loss, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s 

Memory functions often degrade with age, and in the case of the elderly, diseases like dementia may make this worse. Older adults may shower less frequently simply because they forget to shower. They may need external reminders to remember they need to clean themselves. Alzheimer’s frequently induces a lack of self-care. Additionally, the process of bathing may become too complex for elderly parents to maintain.

Alterations in the Senses 

Age-related changes in the senses are one easy explanation for why some people take fewer showers. Elderly folks may not be able to smell as well, making it difficult to know when it’s time to shower. On the other hand, poor circulation can make older people especially prone to the cold, which means they can avoid taking showers since it hurts their discomfort. Also, they may simply lack the necessary energy to take a shower as everything causes them to tire easily.

Mental Health Reasons

Depression and anxiety are two of the more concerning causes of why elderly parents quit taking showers. When a person is depressed, they lose motivation and struggle to complete daily activities. On the other hand, anxiety often comes in waves or in relation to a particular activity and might be caused by the task itself; forgetting, procrastination, and fear of falling are all factors. 


Any care home employee will tell you that helping patients use the restroom is one of the things they have the hardest time accepting. Many older individuals experience modesty or embarrassment when they take off their clothes in front of someone, especially someone they know. They may also not be happy with their body and do not want to look at it themselves, let alone let someone they know or a stranger see them in the nude. Furthermore, they may feel a loss of control when someone else needs to take care of their bathing, which can feel quite embarrassing.

Can you force an elderly person to take a bath?

No, you cannot force an elderly person to bathe, but you can convince them gently and with compassion. Start by figuring out what prevents your elderly parent from showering, so you know the right way to tackle the problem from the list above. As with most things in life, communication is key and can help you to find the reason your parents bathe less. 

Many caretakers get demanding when a senior loved one refuses to take a bath. They might insist that their loved one must bathe, try to drag them into the bathroom, or annoy them nonstop about taking a shower. When speaking to your loved one, try to have a pleasant and encouraging tone whenever possible, as they have legitimate reasons that make the process daunting. 

How often should an elderly person bathe?

Most seniors benefit from taking a bath or shower at least once or twice weekly to prevent infections and skin deterioration. In between thorough showers, minimizing body odor can also be accomplished by wiping the feet, genitals, groin, armpits, and any other skin folds using warm washcloths. 

Some dementia carers, however, assert that daily bathing is actually simpler. When taking a bath becomes a normal part of someone’s day, they are considerably less likely to object. Naturally, when determining a bathing regimen, it’s important to consider your older adult’s individual medical conditions. Some people may need to bathe more regularly than others for medical reasons.

What happens when elderly stop bathing?

When an elderly parent stops bathing, it could indicate they need assistance, and it could be time to get professional help. Start by talking to your parent’s doctor and ask for recommendations. The doctor will be able to determine if your parent has other issues going on or if their mental or physical health is failing. You may need to consider an in-home professional or moving your parents into an assisted living facility like Stellar Care. 

How do I talk to my elderly parents about hygiene?

Demanding that a parent change their clothing or take a shower is likely to result in an argument or irritation, leaving you feeling just as upset as before and your loved one feeling out of control or even attacked. Instead, take into account the fact that older persons who feel threatened and uneasy frequently act defensively by being aggressive or resistant. In addition, you can significantly lessen discomfort surrounding hygiene by refocusing your attention on learning about your loved one’s difficulties and preferences. 

Lack of hygiene is a delicate topic that can make people feel embarrassed or frustrated. Make sure to broach the matter in a quiet setting. Share your observations to open the discussion. For example, you may say, “I have noticed you are not changing your clothes very often. Has anything lately changed?” 

To determine the best way to support your loved ones, learn more about their preferences and skills by speaking with them. Moreover, act relaxed to encourage your parent to stay relaxed even if you are not feeling it. Lastly, being straightforward about bathing is beneficial if memory loss is a factor in your loved one’s concerns with poor hygiene. 

6 Tips to Encourage an Elderly Parent to Bathe and Wear Clean Clothes

Here are some helpful tips to encourage your elderly parents to bathe:

1. Upgrade the Bathroom

With a few simple upgrades, your loved one can feel comfortable in the bathroom. Install a tub they can walk into if necessary rather than climb into it. Other solutions to safety issues and shower convenience include grab bars and shower chairs. 

2. Provide Privacy

Regardless of their physical or mental conditions, many seniors still require privacy. However, when you give elderly people with mental illnesses some independence, they typically perform better. For example, your loved one may feel more in control if they can decide whether to take a bath or a shower and the time.

3. Bring in Support

Seniors who require assistance performing everyday duties on their own may consider hiring a caregiver to come to their house. However, your parents may prefer getting assistance from a stranger who is used to bathing elderly patients and knows how to give them the privacy they need while offering the assistance they need.

4. Create a Relaxing Environment

Find a way to make bathing both enjoyable and relaxing for your parents. Your loved one can unwind and enjoy the experience if you play relaxing music, crank up the heat, lower the lights, or give them a message. Try to pick a regular time of day, and give yourself enough time to avoid being pressured. It might even be beneficial to refer to this period as “spa time.”

Most people can unwind a little more with relaxing music and/or lovely aromatherapy. Warm up the bathroom and the tub before they enter so they do not feel chilled while bathing. Also, if they are taking a bath, try softening the water with a little oil, bath salts, or bubbles. Have multiple warm towels or even a Turkish long-cotton blanket towel available so they can warm up as soon as they exit the water too. 

Finally, ask them when they want to shower instead of ordering them into the shower. Consider letting them choose to take a bath right immediately, after eating breakfast, or after watching their preferred TV show. Giving them a reason to shower, such as an outing, may be inclined to bathe more readily. 

5. Look for Alternatives 

Even if everything else fails, it’s crucial that your loved ones keep themselves clean. An alternative to bathing could be a sponge bath. Promoting hygiene without upsetting your loved one may be accomplished with a sponge bath and be physically easier. However, when your parents need more assistance than you can provide, you may need to hire a health aid to come in and help or consider assisted living. 

6. Keep Their Favorite Clothing On Hand

Many elderly may not want to get dressed because their favorite clothes may not be clean, which means more work for them. Wash their favorites more regularly or buy multiples, so they do not have to wear uncomfortable clothing. Forget putting their favorite clothes in the drawer; instead, opt to keep them within sight and easy reach to encourage a fresh change of clothes.

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