An elderly parent who suddenly refuses to shower or bathe is a concern that is far more common than most people think, The issue of a parent that was once meticulous about hygiene now refusing to bathe and wear clean cloths can be a delicate and embarrassing subject to address.
What are some of the reasons for decline in elderly hygiene? Why does my parent refuse to bathe?
Memory Issues - It's possible that they have simply lost track of time and don't realize how long it's been since they last bathed.
Safety Issues - Maybe they need help with bathing and are embarrassed to be seen naked. Or they need assistance and no one is available to help and they are afraid of falling.
Dementia - They may be extremely confused by the bathing and grooming process and may not understand or remember what to do.
Depression - They may feel that there is no longer anything meaningful in their life. They are housebound more often than not and without social events to look forward to there is no reason to make an effort.
Control - As people age they begin to lose control over their lives and the decisions that they are allowed to make. One area that they generally have control over is dressing and bathing. Many times its just a matter of being told what to do that makes them more resistant.
What can you do to ensure good hygiene?
Make the process more enjoyable - Keep the bathroom warm, play soothing music, have your parents favorite grooming brands and scents available.
Simplify the bath- Keep the steps involved in bathing as few as possible. Use a combination body wash/shampoo, or skip hair washing and use a dry shampoo. Try bath cloths. These are disposable, microwaveable cloths that contain a cleanser, aloe and vitamin E that will clean and condition the skin. Seniors have particularly delicate skin that is prone to break down and infection. No rinsing with water is necessary when using bath cloths.
Safety Devices - If they are afraid of falling add safety bars and a shower chair. A hand-held shower head can help with the fear factor of having water poured overhead.
Have a routine - Having a routine and making it a regular habit can help to overcome the "I don't need a bath today". A simple reminder that today is Wednesday and you always take your bath on Wednesday can make the request seem like a normal part of the day.
Keep Incontinence Cleanser On Hand - If your parent has incontinence problems you may need a formulated cleanser to clean and protect the skin in delicate areas. Use a non-irritating spray formula.
Keep in mind that doctors recommend older adults shower or bathe a minimum of twice a week to reduce the chance of infection (especially UTI's in women). It you are able to convince your parent to bathe more, that's great. If not, be happy with twice a week, unless a medical condition demands more frequent bathing. Too much nagging is counterproductive so you many need to compromise.
Always follow up with positive reinforcement with praise and complements after the bath is finished. Do something rewarding that your parent enjoys like listening to music, having ice cream or going for a short outing.
When caring for a parent you may need to to step back and reconsider your standards. Of course do all that you can to ensure that they are clean and safe but don't expect perfection or for your parent to follow your hygiene rules to a tee. A attitude adjustment on your part may make a happier and less stressed relationship.
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