Senior Hygiene Denial

Mar 30, 2016

Senior Hygiene Denial

Share Article

What do you do if your senior doesn’t acknowledge hygiene? What if they refuse to shower? Brush their teeth? Change their clothes? These are issues that many caregivers have to deal with and do not know how to handle. Below, we provided some helpful tips and tricks to get your senior back to bathing again!

The trouble with maintaining elderly hygiene is more common than most people think, so don't feel alone! However, there are some ways to convincingly communicate the importance of sanitation with seniors.

Why Won’t My Senior Shower?

This denial is linked to a variety of reasons. Depression is a major reason elderly adults do not keep up with themselves. This disease can cause them to lose interest in how they smell or look. If you think this may be the case with your senior, the best option may be to take them to their doctor. Depression is a serious problem that needs to be treated with care. If treated the proper way, your senior may have a renewed sense of healthful living. Another factor may be a decreased sense of smell. What your acute senses may take as body odor, your senior may not notice. Dropping subtle hints can make your senior aware that the issue needs to be resolved.

Back in the day, our parents and grandparents were not the clean freaks, like we are today. They may not have bathed every day but rather once a week. This was the norm as cleanliness was a necessity and not a priority as it is in our current culture. However, it is still important, especially being around them as their caregiver. Tell your senior that the times have changed and it’s time to bathe!

Another popular reason leaving seniors smelly is discomfort or even fear. They may experience discomfort getting in and out of the bathtub, reaching to wash their legs or back, or even standing for a certain period of time. Fear may come in when they think they will slip and fall getting into or out of the tub or not being able to hold themselves up for an extended period of time.

The last reason may be control. You senior may think that they can handle everything by themselves when in reality, they need your help. Elders lose more control over their lives as they age. They think they know what is best for them and refuse other’s opinions. If your senior seems to sound like any of these scenarios, don’t be scared! These are the most common problems in the shower battle we face.

How to Encourage your Senior into Healthy Hygiene Habits

Now that you have read the popular reasons surrounding the problem, here are some ways to keep your elder encouraged about their hygiene.

The focus of solving this problem must be based on compromise. There is a reason your senior won’t bathe and based on your expectations of your senior, you may never be completely pleased with the outcome. You need to understand the other’s ways of living and expectations in order to move forward. You must take a realistic and sensitive approach. Positive encouragement will go a long way in working towards your goal.

Arranging outings between friends can be a good way to encourage seniors to stay clean. Elders are more inclined to feel content with not bathing or changing their clothes if they do not leave their house. If they leave and get out of the house, your senior may feel a greater need to come home and shower.

Other solutions include bathing aids such as shower seats and anti-slip mats. These can help your senior feel safe and well cared for, giving them the incentive to shower. It also may be helpful to encourage a family member to assist with washing. Present the idea as an offer to help, rather than saying that changes need to be made. The goal of this solution is to preserve the senior’s dignity.

Finally, in-home care services are also available. This may be the most practical solution as it ensures your elder is left in professional hands. In-home care services let your senior know that your caregiver wants the best for them and is putting them in the hands of people with experience that work to meet their needs.

Please enter a comment.
Please enter a name.
Please enter a valid email address in the form "".
Please check the box to the left of "I'm not a robot".

Frequently Asked Questions

My mom has dementia and sometimes she will bathe with no fuss but other times, she just flat out refuses. It doesn't matter whether it is day or night. How can I get her to bathe easier?!

I'm sorry you're having some struggles getting your mother clean! There are many different reasons why your mother may not want to bathe. It could be due to dementia symptoms but it could also be because she is embarrassed you have to bathe her or because she has trouble getting in or out of the bath. 

Try to keep your mother on a bathing schedule. Routines are especially helpful for caring for seniors with dementia. Also how often are you bathing your mother? Depending on her lifestyle it may be too much. Seniors have much drier skin, and typically less active lifestyles than other adults, so they may not need a full bath or shower daily.

Try to keep the environment peaceful. Play some of your mother's favorite tunes or sounds from nature to help soothe her. Keep conversations casual in an attempt to keep your mother from feeling embarrassed. Also, let your mother do as much of the self-care that she is able. Even if it takes her longer, it allows your mother to maintain independence and dignity. 

See All Answers »

My mother is unable to bathe herself but is embarrassed for me to bathe her. What should I do?

This situation is not uncommon. If your mother does not want you to bathe her, ask if she would be more comfortable with a trained professional assisting her. Many home care agencies offer assistance at hourly rates. Since seniors do not necessarily need to bathe every day, it may be worth hiring a home care agency to send someone to help two to three times per week.

See All Answers »

Search By State

Find Senior Caring Options by State
Finding the perfect senior care community is only part of making your loved one’s senior living transition smooth. At SeniorCaring, we know that it is also equally important to be aware of what other community services and resources are available to your family’s senior. Choose your location and find local resources for your senior.