How can I encourage my listless mom to bathe?

5 answers | Last updated: Dec 07, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom refuses to bathe, even though she's able to pitch in. Her listlessness makes me feel so helpless and frustrated. What can I do?

Expert Answers

There's always a reason behind decisions made by older people, especially when it comes to personal care.

Start by asking your mom what's going on. If she doesn't give you a clear answer, consider the type of bath she's getting. Is it a bed bath, a soak in a tub, or a shower? Then consider her condition. Can she stand or sit? How are her balance and mental status? Does she need much assistance? Could she be afraid of falling?

Fear of falling is one of the main reasons elderly people hesitate to take a shower or bath. Getting in and out of a bathtub, in particular, can be challenging. Making sure that your bathroom is safety-proofed will give your mom reassurance. But you may need to turn to a bed bath instead.

Allow your mom as much control over the bathing process as possible, such as deciding the time and type of bath. Older people often feel that their caregivers treat them like kids, so they choose not to cooperate.

Is your mother modest? This doesn't disappear with age. You can accomplish most of a bath while keeping her covered with a towel, lifting it section by section to wash discreetly underneath.

If your mom is mentally competent and thinking clearly, she has a right to refuse to be bathed. Your task then is to win her over by making her as comfortable as possible, allaying her fears or hesitations.

If she has dementia, you may just need to be firm, establishing a structured bathing routine and sticking with it. You can be firm and friendly, bathing her quickly with as much tenderness and reassurance as you can, explaining what you're doing along the way.

People with Alzheimer's or dementia can be fearful of the sound or feel of running water. Try running the water before your mom gets into the tub or shower to get her used to the sound. Using a handheld shower hose, introduce water slowly, body part by body part, with a gentle spray.

Finally, don't make a big deal out of refusals -- you can always wait for a time when she's more in the mood. If her listlessness continues, though, check with her doctor to rule out more serious causes.

Community Answers

Fey answered...

My Mom is 90. I am her caregiver.  We live in an apartment. Mom moves around the apartment quite well without her walker. She uses it when she goes for her walks & to the doctor.

Before she came to me she was very depressed and her personal hygiene habits were not what they should have been. Also, the woman taking care of her was not doing what she should/could to assist Mom.

Since she has come to me she is taking a shower twice a week and I'm working to get it to three times a week. She is very afraid of falling. She broke her left leg four years ago and has a metal rod in the upper leg.  Unfortunately it is next to impossible to find a apartment with a stand alone shower. So, there is a grab bar in the tub, another on the wall just outside the tub and I installed an over the side of the tub grab bar.  She has a removeable seat inside the tub and one of the foot massaging bath mats. They look kinda of like fake grass.

I help her stand and sit in the tub. She does most of the washing. I get only the places she can't reach well.  I handle the getting wet and rinsing off.

Try closing the door, Mom gets cold very quick.

Try to keep it lite. After her last few showers Mom didn't want to be lotioned. I told her is skin is now so dry she looks like a lizard, and after her next shower I'm going to grease her up and take her to the care wash for a hot wax to seal the lotion in.

I let her know I enjoy combing her hair after her shower.  Try different things.  However, if the listlessness continues, please take her to her doctor.  If/when you do, you may want to leave the room and let them talk alone.

Good luck and God Bless

Marsha b answered...

I'm a caregiver, and really don't like doing personal care, but l love my work! So, how can l get over this, and l'm looking for a step by step instructions on giving a lady a shower! Can you help?

A fellow caregiver answered...

My friend's father does not bathe. He smells absolutely horrible. He used to play the violin with a small symphony orchestra in a major city, but he no longer participates, because he was ousted for his terrible hygiene and awful odor. He sleeps in his clothing and rarely changes it - and probably never launders his clothing. He is miserly to the extreme, and, IF he ever dines out, he will never, ever leave a tip. This man is a multi-millionaire, but he looks like a street-person, and is disgusting to be close to because of his smell. He cuts his own hair, because he refuses to spend any money to have a barber cut it; it is hacked and chopped up. He darns his socks with dental floss, which is both hideous and hilarious; he was once a dentist. He becomes furious with anyone who attempts to discuss his lifestyle with him. He is now in his late 80s, but his appearance and behavior has gone on for many years. His living quarters are also disgustingly dirty, disorganized, and astoundingly horrible. Certainly this individual has a psychiatric disorder?

Psychosense answered...

Yes, he sounds highly intelligent and gifted, however, stricken with sensory disturbances, and various obsessive and compulsive behaviors. He could have Asperger's Disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder, and more than likely both, as they as commonly co-morbid. He could be high functioning autistic savant with OCD, but all these types usually have multiple types of sensory sensitivities/aversions. Some it is to loud or certain types of sounds, for some it is aversions to certain types of smells, to others it can be an aversion to a certain way a fabric feels, for example, will be unable to tolerate wearing long pants, and can only tolerate shorts made out of jersey like basketball shorts, soft material, no jeans, some cannot tolerate wearing socks At all. Then there are some with aversions with certain food textures, for example, will gag on pudding or yogurt because of aversion to that smooth type of textured food. Some have aversions to different colors of foods. Many are extremely picky eaters and will usually only eat about 10 to 12 total items, maybe fewer, over and over again, because of the sensory issue. Many are unable to be in large crowds because become sensorily overstimulated.