Senior Care and Caregiving

Help my senior citizen elderly loved one will not shower, refuses to bathe, what to do?


ck pic comb hairAs individuals begin to age, it is important to have short conversations with them about routine, patterns and in general likes and dislikes.

This will greatly assist you if you are ever in the place with your loved one that he or she can no longer express their desire to you about such personal issues as bathing, shower. Trying to discuss like and dislikes can have reactions such as:

The denial reaction which is where an individual knows that he or she is aging and having trouble either physically or cognitively with showering and refuses to acknowledge it or talk about the changes that are happening.

The illness reaction which refers to an illness such as dementia or some other serious illness that begins to affect the brain and memory  and the person is unable to tell you his or her preferences or why they will not do it.

Watching for patterns early on, discussing likes and dislikes can greatly assist you if you are ever in need of helping a loved one. For example, ask your aging loved one when you were a kid did you bathe in morning time or in the evening? Did you shower or bath? How about when I or us kids were little did you shower in the evening?

Ask the questions to find out the answer to what pattern the person followed many years ago and does not follow now. Often when individuals suffer from memory impairment they will revert to old behaviors pre-children days and you may not even recognize a behavior that is being exhibited or a request such as showering at night. Your reaction might be “shower at night?” that is odd I never knew mom to shower at night. The reality is your mom did shower at night but it was 40 years ago.

Did your grandmother make meals at 4pm or later, maybe your grandfather worked nights and the family ate early. Maybe when you were small your mom or dad ate at odd time every night when your father came home but that somehow changed by the time you were 6 or 7 and you don’t remember it.

Did your mom have any certain routine she followed or your dad? Did they have a glass of wine before dinner or some certain routine that was done? These are important things to talk about and begin to learn because if you have a loved one who has a memory impairment, the person can live in time period of 40 years ago. For example if the year is 1955 and bathing was done at night before bed then you may have to shower or sponge bath your loved one now in the evening in order to get him or her to do it. The resistance you encounter today refusing to shower may be because the person looks at window and sees it is not dark which is that person’s cue that is it night time and time to shower. The person’s mind is in 1955 not today so cues like darkness are used like a clock.

Being consistent and following routines can make a huge difference in getting your loved one to bathe. Sometimes we take it for granted that we are going to say okay bath time and just start helping the person to undress, etc. Sometimes we lose our patience and expect that the person knows what is about to happen and we don’t communicate the steps that we are taking. Depending on your loved one, it is often better to tell the loved one what is going to happen. For example, saying to the person, okay, we need to take your shirt off. Let’s pull this arm out of the shirt first and then we will do the other.

For a person with memory impairment who does not remember the steps of how to do something like bath, the act of pulling off clothes without communication can send them running or even become combative. Individuals with memory impairment can often react with either fight, flight or fright. This means if they are unsure about what is going to happen, they will either become combative, argumentative and possibly even try to hit you or they will try to flee from you and run away or they will just be so frightened they will almost freeze in posture and be difficult to move.

Sometimes it is necessary to tell them step by step what is occurring during the bathing process. Covering them with a towel is important as most individuals of the Depression era generation are very modest and may feel awkward or even ashamed of a stranger seeing them naked. If you have a memory impaired individual, depending on severe the impairment, even the daughter or son can be a stranger at bathing time.

Try to see bathing as an activity that requires the scheduling of time. Time to talk about it, time to begin the process of it happening, time to explain what you are doing and time to spend with loved one that is not rushed. Again try to learn patterns of old and new for bathing. Likes and dislikes for bathing, modesty and safety issues. Listen and watch. Take notes. Those notes may help you in the future. For more information on bathing and other senior related issues, click HERE.

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