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What to Do When a Senior Refuses to Bathe

Hygiene concerns are common among the elderly, but caregivers who want to address the problem must devise a strategy to get them to bathe regularly and wear clean clothing. The fact is you’re not alone and that countless other caregivers face this same frustration. While a mild case of body odor and a disheveled appearance can be a minor cause for concern, other seniors neglect their hygiene so much that it can jeopardize their overall health. For example, it can put them at risk of urinary tract infections or skin infections and put a damper on their mental health, as well.

But what can you do if insisting on showers or baths results in arguments and hostility? Part of the problem is determining what is causing their resistance.

Reasons the Elderly May Be Resistant to Better Personal Hygiene

You may be shocked to find that your mother, who used to bathe regularly, dress to impress, and wear makeup, has suddenly stopped doing all those things and is comfortable re-wearing the same wrinkly attire day after day. If you find this to be the case, it’s wise to not rule out depression as the primary problem. Because depression isn’t always apparent to family members, considering taking your loved one to the doctor for an evaluation. One possible cause of their depression could be a feeling as though they’ve lost control over their lives and the only way they can regain control is by refusing to do something like bathing.

Elderly folks may also be “nose blind,” – meaning they cannot detect body odor (especially their own) as quickly as younger people because their sense of smell is no longer as keen as it used to be. Others may simply be bored, lose track of time, and not even realize how long it has been since they last took a shower. This can be further compounded by cognitive decline and memory loss. Apart from depression and boredom, others are afraid of bathing because of the risk of falling in the bathroom, an area that is mostly filled with slick, hard surfaces, and their agility and sense of balance are no longer like what they used to be able to do.

Convincing someone who has dementia to bathe adds a whole other problem into the mix. While it’s challenging enough to convince an older adult with all their cognitive faculties to bathe as they should, getting a person living with dementia in the tub can become an overwhelming obstacle. The fact is they may experience all the previously mentioned issues such as depression, dulled sense of smell, and fear or discomfort.

How to Convince Your Loved One to Bathe

Reframe your thinking around instructing your loved one they should bathe. The way you discuss hygiene can go a long way to a better outcome. You should be gentle when pointing out body odor, soiled clothing, or an unkempt appearance, as some seniors may simply be unaware. If they are indifferent, keep in mind that nagging someone to do something is rarely effective. Once you convince them to bathe, you can offer positive reinforcement by complimenting them on how they look and smell, as many older adults love the attention.

Hiring a caregiver to come in can be a huge help, as well. Some seniors can be opposed to the idea at first, but others find it less embarrassing to have a professional help them bathe than their adult children. Not only that, but in-home caregivers are trained to help knock out bathing routines quickly, thoroughly, and respectfully. If you find that your loved one has difficulty in other areas than just their hygiene, it might be time to consider full-time in-home care so they get the hands-on care and supervision they need to thrive.

To learn more about At Home Healthcare and our in-home caregivers, please contact us at (877) 959-9093.
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