It’s a pretty common problem: the person you’re caring for is refusing to bathe.

Here’s advice from other caregivers on how to keep everyone clean, safe, and happy.


What’s normal to them

We have to remember that more than likely “back in the day” your father did not bathe except for perhaps once a week for church/synagogue time. Encouraging cleanliness is not easy, but perhaps sponge baths are the best hope for now. – Marie N.

The feel of the water

[People] with sensory processing disorder struggle greatly with baths and showers because they don’t like the feel of the water. It’s not uncommon for anyone of any age to struggle with SPD, especially the elderly. – LaKea H.

Making them comfortable

Identify something special to them — might be a food treat, an outing, a special visitor.

For my mom it was having a fire in the fireplace even when it was warm outside. She loved to sit in front of it and so it was great to start the fire and then she knew when she got out that she could sit and warm in front of it, I bought those 4 hour logs.

Warmth is very important — remember how you would warm the room for a baby’s bath. We have to remember that it is a bath they likely remember not a shower.

  • For women lavender soap is soothing. Or their favorite perfume from years past.
  • Perhaps get some Old Spice for older men and put some out in a bowl to the smell is in the warm room. Many older men used to use Old Spice.
  • Never spray the water on their head or face.
  • Let them do as much as they can.
  • I agree with letting them start with washing their hands or face with a cloth.
  • Having a secure and easy to use bench to sit on makes it less scary.
  • Wear something you can get wet. Have plenty of towels and mat because water will be everywhere.

Make this difficult time a sweetly speaking quiet time. We caregivers have to acknowledge bathing is often difficult but not a battle of wits or strength. A shower can be weekly and bed or sponge baths in between. Just making sure the personal areas are really cleaned to avoid rashes and breakouts and skin breakdown. Finally, the person might do it easier for someone else. If so let the other person do it. Even if you have to pay $20 a week to an aide it will be worth it. Some aides will come in just to do a bath. – Jeananne E.

It is a difficult situation, but once or twice of having the bathroom nice and toasty warm with the bathwater and all grooming necessities in place, it was easy to take my Dad by the hand andassist him. He did always feel much better afterwards and it soon grew (in that stage) to be my responsibility of getting him in there.

Sincere encouragement and patience are key in hopefully gaining the needed level of cooperation. Depending on what meds your patient or loved ones are under the influence of can be a determining factor as well. Valerian Root (a natural supplement) helped to relax my Dad. Don’t use it unless consulted with Dr. if other meds are administered. Best of luck and love to all under these circumstances. I know it is not easy. – Vicky H.

Ease your way in

Don’t say bath. To the elderly it’s allot of work.

Just let’s wash your hands and go from there. That’s what I did with my Mother while she was walking around.  She’s in a hospital bed now and we use the same words. We never say bath. She says I just took one.

So we now say we’re going to wash your hands. And then go into full bath mode. After its over we say doesn’t that feel great. She agrees and takes a nap. – Diane L.B.

Use bed bath products & wipes

In my case I used bed bath products. Most can be found at local pharmacy stores. Wipes, no rinse cleaners, shampoo, buzzed off hair all make things easier. Baby wipes for sensitive skin are good.

It’s a struggle

Oh how I feel Your pain! My Dad was the hardest. He would just cry cause he didn’t think it was right for me to give him a bath. We struggled but got it done. My Mom on the other hand is well something else, but we manage. They even admit they feel better after.

Adult disposable wipes are good, too, when the struggle is real. – Pat S.

It is literally IMPOSSIBLE to get my MIL to bathe! She will cuss you, hit you, try to bite you, and cry, like you are trying to kill her or something. Nightmare! – Vickie B.

Some days I lay on my bed and cry after doing it because I know it’s a physical demand from her and it’s also one for me! – Kellye H.

My Mom wouldn’t bathe. For 9 months she refused! I have hospice come in now and they give her a sponge bath 1-2 times a week! She’s mean — curses, hits, and throws her cane or even her walker at me! I try to help her…but all I get is cursed at or hit. I just walk away! It’s hard. – KJ

About Allison Powell

Profile photo of Allison PowellI live off of food from Trader Joe's. I spend my life in a cubicle, a la Office Space. I'm kind of obsessed with the internet.

Confession: I take care of people but don't identify as a caregiver.

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