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Caregiver Training Blog

Does a Senior in Your Care Resist Bathing?

Senior care

Many people are familiar with the concept of young children resisting bath time, but as it turns out, this phenomenon is not limited to the single-digit set. In fact, refusing to bathe is a problem among seniors as well -- especially those with Alzheimer’sor dementia. Unfortunately, caring for someone who is bathing-averse can add to a caregiver’s list of stresses. Here’s a closer look at the issue, along with five tips aimed at helping caregivers ensure that older adults in their care stay clean, comfortable and healthy.

The 411 on Bathing Resistance

While reluctance to bathing is common among older people, there’s no single reason for this behavior. In fact, it can be attributed to a number of different things, including modesty, fear of falling, balance problems, discomfort with the temperature and/or temperature changes, and pain associated with taking a shower. Additionally, people with dementia may fear water and/or find the sound of the shower irritating or overwhelming.

The first step in managing the care of a patient who doesn’t want to bath is to get to the root of the problem. In some case, such as if the water is too cold or he feels unstable, the problem may have a simple fix. In other cases, there may be a more complex cause. If your aging loved one is unwilling or unable to discuss the issue with you, a conversation with his healthcare provider can yield invaluable insights -- particularly if there is a medical explanation. A doctor can also reinforce the reasons for practicing routine good hygiene for odor prevention and ongoing good health.

Five Caregiver Tips for Encouraging Bathing

There are some things caregivers can do to make seniors more amenable to bathing, including the following:

1. Prioritize privacy.

Most seniors have been bathing themselves for their entire lives. Suddenly requiring help from others can not only highlight feelings of lost independence but can also risk an individual’s dignity. By offering as much privacy as possible, caregivers can help seniors maintain a sense of control and privacy. 

2. Take adequate safety measures.

Many older adults are afraid to fall in the shower, and with good reason: Seniors spills are potentially life-threatening. Taking proper safety measures, including everything from non-skid surfaces to grab bars, can help ease fears of falling. Shower benches, hand-held shower heads, and adequate lighting are other ways to make the bathing process as comfortable as possible for older adults.

Senior care

3. Include seniors in the decision-making.

There are no hard and fast rules regarding when and how often seniors should shower. One of the simplest ways to get seniors on board with regular showers, is to include them in the decision-making process.  Some times of day will be more conducive to bathing than others so try to schedule baths within these windows. For example, if you’re caring for a patient who exhibits sundowning symptoms, morning bathing may be preferable to evening bathing.) Additionally, sponge bathing can be used as an alternative to a full shower or bath if patients are more receptive to this approach. 

4. Maintain a positive demeanor.

If you become angry or emotional during bath time, you’re increasing the odds that the patient will, too. By maintaining a calm and positive demeanor, however, you can support these same feelings in your patient. That said, firmness is also essential. In many cases, if you give a patient the opportunity to say “no" to bathing, he will. 

5. Enlist outside help.

Many caregivers find that the task of bathing is easier to accomplish when outsourced to a professional. If all else fails and/or the task is simply becoming overwhelming for you, a home health worker may be a perfect solution. Your aging loved one’s physician may also recommend an anti-anxiety medication, which can make the task more tolerable -- to patients and caregivers alike. 

While caring for someone who resists bathing can be difficult, understanding the problem and taking proactive steps to improve the process can lead to improved outcomes for all.

If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.

mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. For more useful free caregiver training resources, access our database of free online caregiver videos today.

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