elderly parent won't bathe woman filling tub signifying Mental Illness Refusal to Bathe

How Do You Get an Elderly Person to Bathe?

Having a hard time getting your senior to bathe? An elderly parent or loved one refusing to bathe is more common than you may think. It’s not uncommon to hear ‘my elderly parent won’t bathe or refuses to bathe.’ Bathing can be a constant struggle for many caregivers, especially when caring for the elderly with Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other cognitive impairments. It is also common to see refusal to bathe with mental illness. In this post we give tips on what to do when an elderly parent refuses to bathe.


What to Do When Elderly Parent Refuses to Bathe

It’s essential to keep your elderly parent or loved one’s body clean to reduce the risk of infections and avoid unpleasant body odors.

But trying to get them to shower may result in hostility or screaming, increasing everyone’s stress level.

So what steps can you take to deal with someone when they refuse to bathe or shower?


Reasons Why Elderly Parent Won’t Bathe

 It is helpful to try to understand why your loved one refuses to bathe. Some reasons why elderly don’t want to bathe include:


Fatigue. They may not have the energy to bathe.

Fear of things like falling or of the cold. They may fear falling getting in and out of the shower or may fear slipping on the wet floor. Some may fear the coldness associated with getting undressed and wet. In addition, some may fear the noise of the shower.

Pain. Some elderly experience pain with walking, getting in and out of the shower or bending over.

Mental illness refusal to bathe. Some seniors may have a mental illness, such as an anxiety disorder, mood disorder, or other mental health conditions that impact their attention to hygiene.

Cognitive decline. When someone has Alzheimer’s, dementia or other cognitive decline, there are many reasons why they may refuse to bathe. For example, with cognitive decline, some may not remember to shower or may not recognize they need to pay more attention to their hygiene.



bathroom with pretty soaps showing How To  Convince an Elderly Person to Bathe


Ideas on How To Convince an Elderly Person to Bathe

There are steps you can take to help your elderly parent not bathing. First, try to determine why they hesitate to bathe. Talk with them and ask them about their hesitation and what can be done to make the task easier. Better understanding the ‘why’ may help come up with a strategy that works.


Below are 8 Tips For What to do When Elderly Parent Refuses to Bathe

1. Talk with their Doctor 

Consider talking with their health care provider if your elderly parent is struggling. Their doctor may treat them for things like depression or pain. Ask their doctor how often your loved one should shower every week. One or two times a week, with sponge baths in between, may be sufficient to keep them clean. Additionally, many seniors look at their doctor as an authority figure and listen to their recommendations. Reminding your parent ‘the doctor said you need to shower to stay clean’ may be the encouragement they need.


2. Keep the Bathroom Safe 

If they are afraid of falling, consider installing handlebars to have grab bars to hold onto in and around the shower.  Additionally, make sure they have non-slip bathmats in and around the tub so they don’t slip. Check the bathroom floor, which also tends to get slippery, and make sure there are secure bathmats.


3. Preparation to Make Bathing Easy

If pain or fatigue is a concern with showering, a sturdy shower chair or bath bench may make it easier for them to sit while in the shower. A hand-held showerhead may be easier for them to use. This will allow them more control and to easily spray different areas of their body. In addition, they may need assistance walking to the shower area and may require help dressing and undressing. Having towels and fresh clothes in the bathroom, ready for them, may also make it easier for them.


4. Simple Steps

Some elderly may need a lot of direction. Use short, simple sentences and direct them on what to do. For example, ‘take off your nightgown,’ ‘put it in the hamper,’ ‘open the shower curtain’, and ‘step in the shower.’ Depending on their condition, they may need direction and assistance.


5. Keep It Warm and Positive

Keep bath time a positive experience.

The elderly tend to be colder, so consider putting a heater in the bathroom to keep the air temperature warm.  Make sure the water temperature is pleasant before your elderly parent starts showering.

Using soaps, shampoos, and lotions they like can make it a spa-like experience. Having plenty of towels ready so they can dry off comfortably is also helpful.

Maintain a calm, soothing voice and use ‘we’ so they feel you are doing this fun, relaxing activity together.

For some elderly, the shower spray may be scary. Consider using a hand-held showerhead while they are sitting in a shower chair. You can have them sit in the shower chair, keeping them covered with towels. Turn the shower on, pointing it away from them. While they are sitting in the chair, slowly let them feel the water. Then continue showering them slowly.

Some recommend keeping towels on your senior while  showering different body parts. Towels may get wet, but some find this method helpful because it keeps them warm and gives them more privacy.


6. Positive Reinforcement – What to do When Elderly Parent Refuses to Bathe

Using positive reinforcement can be helpful. For example, letting them know ‘let’s go shower then we will have/do  ____.’ Focus on the snack/fun activity more so than the shower to keep them motivated. Sometimes getting another family member may be helpful. For example, ‘Your daughter is coming to visit after you shower.’  If you are going someplace, they enjoy, have them shower first. ‘After you shower, we will go to ___.’


7. Hiring a Caregiver for Bath Time

Hiring a bathe aide may be worth considering.

A caregiver can come to the home and help with your elderly parent’s hygiene needs.

Sometimes a parent may reject the idea of a caregiver at first.

If your parent is initially reluctant, consider having the caregiver start with simple tasks like washing their face, getting fresh clothes ready, and brushing their teeth.

As your parent gets used to the help, have the caregiver increase task to include bathing.

Some parents find it less embarrassing than having a family member help.


8. Put it on the Calendar

Having a calendar or dry erase board where you write in important activities can help seniors get a visual of what they will be doing the upcoming week. A calendar can be a great help for organization and as a memory aide. You can add doctor appointments, social engagements, and important tasks scheduled for the day. Adding bathing or a ‘spa day’ will help your senior see and mentally prepare when they are due for a shower. This can be helpful idea when considering what to do when elderly parent refuses to bathe. You can review the calendar with them every morning, and cross off tasks that are finished.


9. Creative Solutions

As your loved one’s condition progressive, you may need to change your approach to get them to shower. Here are some other creative ways that may help get your loved one to shower.

  • Make it seem like it is their idea. For example, prepare their clothes, towels, and turn the water on. Then say  “Your things are ready and the shower water is on and warm, just like you asked. You said you wanted to shower.”
  • Instead of asking, get the shower ready and say ‘Okay it’s shower time”. Or, “I need a shower. Once you are finished with yours I will take mine.”
  • If your senior has favorite clothes that they wear a lot and don’t seem to want to change, buy an extra set of them. Switch them out for fresh ones and wash the dirty clothes.
  • Baby wipes or adult wash clothes can be helpful in between for a quick clean up. Additional, consider using a bidet, for example a personal bidet that attaches to a water bottle, so that your loved one is clean after using the bathroom.
  • Don’t ask or demand. Just get things ready, put the shower on, and say “the shower is ready for you.”
  • Let them know they need to shower before you both go out (e.g. to doctor appointments, social engagements). Prepare for the shower, and say ” Let’s shower and get cleaned up so we can go to the ___”




how do you get a dementia patient to bathe because senior woman in robe looking out blinds


How Do you Get a Dementia Patient to Bathe?

Refusing to shower or bathe in a common behavior in people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. As dementia progresses, showering or bathing can become scary. It’s not uncommon to hear an Alzheimer’s patient refuses to bathe, and many ask how do you get a dementia patient to bathe.

With the cognitive decline people face with dementia, they may not know they haven’t showered in a while. They may not notice their hygiene is lacking, and they may insist they have recently bathed.

Someone with cognitive decline may have issues with depth perception, making it scary to step into the shower or tub of water. They may perceive bathing as unpleasant, embarrassing, scary, cold, or uncomfortable.

 So, how do you get a dementia patient to bathe? 


In addition to the above tips, the following may be helpful to encourage someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s to bathe.

  • Be patient. It may take trial and error to find what works best for your loved one. In the earlier stages of dementia, you may find your loved one may only need reminders or help to get things ready. As the disease progresses, your loved one will likely need more assistance.
  • Keep a routine consistent and with the preferences of your elderly parent. You can offer a bath or shower, and see which one they prefer. If they historically showered in the morning, keep their hygiene routine in the morning. On the days a bath or shower is required, offer them which (shower or bath) they prefer.
  • For baths, consider filling the tub a little to start, say with a few inches of water. Watch their reaction to getting in, as it may be better to fill the tub after they are already sitting inside.
  • Have everything ready for them. This includes towels, change of clothes, shampoo, soap, and anything else they need.
  • Try to make bathing a fun, positive experience. Sing, play music, candles, use bubble bath, things your senior enjoys. Try to distract them from any fear and focus on fun.
  • Keep them involved in the process, allowing them to do as much as they can.
  • Allot enough time for bathing. Keep in slow and calm. Rushing and frustration with bath time can result in resistance and a negative experience for dementia patients.
  • Liquid soap and a combination shampoo conditioner can make washing a little easier. Consider using smaller, easier to hold containers.
  • Adjust the water pressure and temperature. High water pressure may feel like an uncomfortable sting. Someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s may not sense the water is too hot or cold.


One Example Approach – How do You Get a Dementia Patient to Bathe:

Prepare the bathroom with things like soaps, shampoo, towels, and change of clothes.

Tell your loved one it is time for her spa treatment.

As they near the bathroom, tell them before each step what you are about to do.

Remain kind, calm, and respectful.

Make slow, thoughtful moves, so you do not startle or scare your loved one.

Ask them to participate, for example, test the water temperature and do what they can to bathe themselves.

Have many towels ready to keep them warm and to dry them when done.



Mental Illness Refusal to Bathe caregiver trying to help elderly man in robe


Mental Illness Refusal to Bathe

Mental illness can cause someone to be unaware of their lack of hygiene or make it more challenging to take care of themselves.

Their lack of hygiene may stem from disorganization, lack of motivation, or general apathy.

Several mental illnesses can impact someone’s hygiene, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, psychosis, and more.


So how can you help someone with mental illness and refusal to bathe?

The first step is finding why they do not want to bathe. Understanding their mental health condition and why they do not want to bathe can help you develop a strategy that will work for them.

Explain the importance of good hygiene, including skin problems and the risk of infections.

Speaking with their doctor or a therapist may help someone with mental illness who refusal to bathe. They may help your loved one manage their mental health and provide encouragement and strategies for better hygiene.

For mental illness and refusal to bathe, a doctor or therapist can help treat the underlying conditions. Additional strategies will depend on what type of mental condition your loved one has, for example phobias or anxiety.


Caregiver Stress

Caregiving can cause stress, especially as you juggle other responsibilities throughout the day. For more information about caregiving, caregiver stress, and self care tips, please read some more from our blog:


What is Caregiver Burnout and Fatigue?

Self-Care for Caregivers

Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities

What are Community Resources and How to Find Them



Family Caregiver Support

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