Tips for Overcoming Bathing Challenges with an Elderly Loved One


Helping someone to bathe can be a challenge for many caregivers. Why does a person resist your help when they are no longer taking care of their personal hygiene?

There are several reasons why caregivers experience common issues around bathing. In many cases, the person you care for, thinks they already had a shower and they’re not aware that they haven’t changed their clothing in several days. They think everything is fine. Sensory changes may prevent the person from being able to see the stains on clothing or smell body odors the same as you.

A person may also have a strong need for privacy. Let’s face it, most people are modest when it comes to getting naked in front of another person. For most of your life, cleaning is a personal and solitary event.

They may also have a fear of water, being cold, falling, or being taken advantage of while they’re naked. Mirrors can be distressing for people too. If the person has dementia, they may no longer recognize their own image and will be afraid “of the stranger” in the room. Lastly, they may not like caregivers in general. They may say “Who do you think you are to be in the bathroom with me?”

It’s important that a person is clean to prevent bacterial issues and disease. As well, no one wants to be around someone who smells or looks unpleasant. We judge people on their appearance. More importantly, as personal hygiene starts to slip, it is often a sign that the person needs more support in all areas of their life.

Getting a person out of their clothing, and trying to help a person with hygiene can be very uncomfortable and stressful for caregivers. How do you help a person get clean and keep them safe without creating a problem for both of you?

Begin by thinking about the person and their bathing practices. What is the history of their hygiene? How frequently did they bathe? How did they do their hair? What helps the situation? What makes it worse? What can you change for a better outcome? Is there a person who can make it a little better?

With that information in mind, here are ten tips to help overcome bathing challenges:

  1. Stick to the person’s routines and habits.

  2. Make sure the bathroom is nice and warm.

  3. Buy shampoo and soap in scents that the person will like, and familiar brands.

  4. Create a pleasant, spa-like environment with soft music.

  5. Have everything ready and laid out.

  6. Buy several identical outfits if they want to wear the same clothing.

  7. Cover the mirror if they no longer recognize themselves.

  8. Try a foot and hand soak.

  9. Accept that a wash-up at the kitchen sink might be good enough.

  10. Provide the person with subtle supervision, and remain outside the bathroom if possible.

If you must be in the bathroom, say that you’re sorry but the doctor is concerned they will fall. Be respectful and avert your eyes to offer privacy. Provide step by step guidance, and help the person feel successful and capable, rather than incompetent.

Change your expectations and consider if a bath twice a week, rather than every day, will be sufficient. Go with the flow rather than insisting it must be done a certain way. Remember that the goal is to help a person get clean and stay safe, not create a catastrophic event that can be risky for both of you.

Questions about caring for your elderly loved one? Kimbrough Law can help. Just give us a call at 706.850.6910.

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