My dad is in memory care. Lately he has been refusing to shower or shave. He has urinary incontinence due to prostate cancer surgery so showering is a must! The aides just ask and when he digs in they just let him not shower! How can we change this behavior?

Unfortunately this is a very common dilemma for loved ones of those with dementia both in and out of memory care units. The most important thing to keep in mind is you will not be able to change his behavior. You are not dealing with a child that can learn proper hygiene as you teach them. Your father will need to be guided, step by step, and most memory care facilities do not make patients do anything, they encourage and they remind and they ask, but they also try to avoid outbreaks of anger and agitation which is what can happen when someone is forced to do an activity they don’t want to do. If your father is forced to take a shower and he fights the staff, kicking, biting, hitting…which could very well happen, at some point they could come to you and tell you he can no longer stay there because he is a risk to other patients and to staff.

So, you can ask them to do some simple things to try to help get him to shave and to shower. Please ask them to try different times of the day. They may have a routine already in place, let’s just say they start showers at 6 p.m., right after dinner. Ask if they can try earlier in the day, when he is most agreeable. If you are able to go and help a few times, I recommend wearing something you can get wet, and taking your time and showing him how to wash himself. Take his hand and place it on yours, or on your wrist and have him hold on while you clean him with a washcloth. This may not work, as he may be embarrassed to have you help him. He probably won’t be able to lean back in the shower any more, so he will lean his head forward and possibly cause soap to get in his eyes. Remind him to shut his eyes. If there is a staff member that will work with you to do some of these things, it may help.
Then again, he may keep refusing, and the best you can hope for is to use washcloths to go over him with soap that doesn’t need to be rinsed off. I understand your concern with the catheter, and you may have to settle for a sponge bath.

Try calming music, dimming the lights, making sure it is warm so he isn’t cold, make jokes or try to keep him entertained during the process so he isn’t focusing on the bath itself, but on whatever you are doing to distract him. Also, he may not want to take a shower with the water running too hard, it might actually be scary or hurtful. Do they have a handheld nozzle?

This can be a very frustrating process, and I know you want to keep infection from setting in, but your father may have other ideas. Just love him as I am sure you do with each visit and know you are doing the best you can.

5 thoughts on “How can I change my dad’s resistance to shower?

  • Joann

    My husband had the same problems, refusing to bathe, wash his hair, brush his teeth, shave. He hated being washed with a wash cloth. It took two of us to get him into the shower. I used a hand held, and it had about half the volume of a regular shower, which was better for him. I also got a stool for him to sit on. He would then stay calm while I bathed him. The only way I could do it was to get into the shower with him. Since it was such a struggle, we only gave him a bath a couple of times a week. Not perfect, but the best we could do. We lost him in May.

  • chris

    OH THIS was the WORST for my family. My father reeked of urine and sweat so bad, that it made us all uncomfortable to be with him. It was a huge struggle for me. I was called weekly by the staff at his care home.( after I had placed him). They wanted and needed my help to coax him. It never mattered what I sad, he NEVER bathed. The nursing staff FINALLY had me invest in wet wipes and a medical grade wash pads. They did the best they could BUT summer was the WORST!. I was and still am at a loss of words about this bathing issue.

  • Anita

    My mother would fight us every time we tried to put her in the shower to bath. I realized that one of the things she hated was being totally undressed. I started leaving a Tshirt on her and that seemed to help and gave her a bath cloth to hold herself and let her wash her face. It is trial and error sometimes. Their fears are real though!


    we would give the shower early in the morning. between 4-5am. have everything set-up before hand. undress her before she could resist and after shower of low water volume take off her nighty, then wrap her in warm towel. This was very comforting for her then a favorite drink. This woman had no idea of time. This worked a good part of the time. good luck everyone.

  • Penny

    It is a constant struggle. We have to coax my mom with a favorite snack or an outing. We never use the word bath. She sits in a shower chair and pours containers of water over her body as needed. She does not like the constant stream of water. Yesterday, she only agreed if it was a “pretend” bath. She took the bath but said it was only pretend. “Whatever it takes” is our motto.

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