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How can I get my mom to bathe?

Answered by David Troxel

December 8, 2014

My mom fights bathing. She will start going to the restroom claiming her stomach hurts and that she needs to lay down to avoid bathing. Or she will just change her clothes and say she is ready to go. If she doesn’t bathe she has no stomach problems only when she has to bathe. When she does bathe she is angry and bathes so fast I don’t think she even washes her hair or soap her body.

Bathing seems to be an ongoing challenge for many caregivers. Persons with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia often become resistant or afraid of bathing. They also can lose insight—thinking that they just had a bath or don’t need one (even when they do!).

Modesty comes into play—persons may be unsure of their surroundings and not want to disrobe.

Safety is also an issue—many elders are afraid of falling and the bath and shower space can be hard to navigate.

Here are a few tips:

Try to make the experience as pleasant as possible. Use a favorite scented soap and do your best to make the bathing space warm and inviting (some colorful towels or flowers).

Avoid overhead showers if you can in favor of a hand held spray or a not too deep bathtub.

Install grab bars as needed and a non-slip mat.

Get advice from a local home health agency about other products and options that might help like soap less shampoos or scented wipes. Sometimes a sponge bath can do a pretty good job.

Do your best to keep your patience and sense of humor. Joke about “getting through this together.”

Stress the benefits of the bath, “Mom you will be so beautiful you can go out dancing or we can hit the town.”

Protect dignity and let her do as much as she can.

Despite your best efforts, sometimes it still remains a big battle to get the job done. I’ve found that hiring an in-home worker to help with this task can be a good strategy—your mom may be less resistant to a “professional” who can help and who is skilled at getting that “no” turned into a “yes.”

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