Why Seniors Refuse to Bathe

As a caregiver you will face many challenges. When you take on the responsibility of providing care for an aging loved one, you have taken on the responsibility of managing her health, safety, and comfort. One of the biggest elements of this is making sure your aging loved one keeps up with her hygiene. Hygiene is essential to a high quality of life, both for your aging loved one and any care providers who spend time with her. Unfortunately, there are many seniors who are very resistant to bathing. This can lead to a variety of consequences. Caring for elderly people who don’t bathe can be stressful and frustrating. You may find yourself struggling with your loved one about bathing as your primary interaction. This is not good for either of you. Understanding some of the reasons why seniors refuse to bathe, and some of the consequences this can cause, can help you to find effective avenues to convincing your senior to take better care of herself.

Why Seniors Refuse to Bathe

There are various reasons why the elderly don’t bathe regularly. It is important that you determine the actual reasons behind your loved one’s resistance so you can more effectively address the issue and help your loved one adopt a healthier hygiene routine. Some of the most common reasons seniors refuse to shower include:

  • Mobility and Physical Issues: when a senior is nervous about moving around the home, she will often be resistant to bathing. The bathroom is full of potential dangers, including slippery surfaces and large step-ups. The actual act of taking a shower also requires an array of physical movements that can be difficult and even dangerous for seniors with mobility issues or physical limitations. Movements such as turning, sitting, standing from sitting, reaching, and bending can pose serious risks for seniors who have balance challenges, arthritis, or other physical limitations.
  • Modesty: though you may be able to approach the concept of bathing your senior without thinking about the nudity aspect, it is possible that your aging loved one has a tremendous amount of difficulty when it comes to allowing you to help her bathe. This is particularly applicable for parents of the opposite sex of the adult child providing care.
  • Cognitive Challenges: a senior with memory or thought process challenges may not understand why you are asking her to bathe. She may not realize that it has been so long since her last shower, instead thinking it has only been a day or even a few hours when in fact it has been days or even weeks since she bathed. Some seniors may no longer understand the significance of bathing or understand why it should matter. Others are frightened by the sound of the water and simply do not want to get wet because of the startling change in temperature.

Consequences of a Senior Who Refuses to Bathe

Seniors who refuse to bathe are not just a frustration, they can also put themselves at risk of serious consequences that will dramatically impact their quality of life. It can sometimes be helpful to remind your aging loved one of these potential consequences when trying to convince her to bathe. Often appealing to her logic or emotion is an effective approach in ending the arguments and getting her clean. Some of the consequences of improper hygiene include:

  • Isolation: when a person does not bathe properly they will develop body odor. While body odor is normal, if it is left unaddressed it can become quite serious. If your senior has started to smell bad you may be too embarrassed to bring her out of the home or allow others to come visit. You may not even be willing to visit as often. This leads to isolation, loneliness, and depression. Seniors need interaction and companionship to support their psychological health, but improper hygiene can lead to a severe lack of socialization.
  • Skin Irritation: if not cleansed properly, skin can become irritated. This irritation can lead to itching, pain, open sores, and infections. Many seniors find themselves suffering symptoms similar to diaper rash, particularly in their inner thighs. This can be a truly miserable situation and lead to a variety of other issues.
  •  Dental Issues: often seniors who refuse to bathe also refuse to keep up with their oral hygiene. Improper dental hygiene can have very serious health implications. Bacteria and infections from the mouth can be swallowed, or move into the blood stream. This can result in digestive problems, heart disease, liver and kidney infections, and other serious problems. Dental issues in seniors also tend to cause tooth loss, which leads to pain, embarrassment, and nutrition problems.

What Can Be Done About Seniors Who Refuse to Bathe

While caring for a senior who will not take a shower is frustrating and even exasperating, there are things that can be done. Depending on the particular motivation behind the senior refusing to bathe, there are various ways you can address the issue and try to resolve it. Some of these include:

  • Hiring a Caregiver: having a home care companion or other type of senior care provider help your senior bathe can help remove much of the anxiety and resistance. Seniors are often much more receptive to being bathed or provided other sensitive care by people they perceive as having authority and who do not have a personal or familial relationship with them. This caregiver will also have extensive experience bathing seniors and know how to do it safely, effectively, and with dignity.
  • Talk About It: your senior may genuinely not understand what is wrong. Sit down with her and explain why she needs to bathe, what may happen if she doesn’t, and what you are going to do to help her. This will give her comfort and confidence through the process.
  • Be Consistent: don’t let your aging loved one slide on a schedule bath day. Make a schedule and be committed to keeping it. Routine will make it so your loved one anticipates the bath and is more ready to handle it when it comes.

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