Maybe one of the hardest parts of caring for a loved one is assisting with their personal care needs, which for many possible reasons, they may no longer be able to address independently. As adult children, this can lead to awkward moments in reversed roles with both parties unsure on how to communicate about it much less execute on the task at hand.
Staying clean is not just a social issue, but truly a matter of staying healthy and therefore as independent as possible for as long as possible. When people don’t clean themselves, they can develop skin conditions or other infections.
Bathing or showering a loved one who can’t or won’t perform this daily function is probably one of the most commonly asked questions in caregiving.
Yes, the first question to ask is, “Why is this happening?” or more accurately, “Why isn’t this happening?” There is no single answer and that’s why individual care and communication is crucial to success.
First, think about how you will communicate with them on this very sensitive topic. No one wants to hear, “You stink!” As people age, their senses become less sharp so they may not notice stains on their clothing or their own body odor. Start the conversation by asking questions about their current needs and make soft suggestions. One scenario might involve saying, “My friend Sally hired a caregiver to help her Dad take a shower once a week. Is that something you’ve ever felt like you might need?”
For one person it could be a fear of falling, which isn’t too surprising given all of the slippery surfaces in a bathroom.
Or perhaps they are living with some stage of cognitive impairment, even Alzheimer’s disease, and they cannot remember the steps involved in getting clean or find them too overwhelming. Another reason could be fear or being cold when undressed.
Sometimes it can be about routine and this person may only want to shower or take a bath in the morning, but you or a caregiver can only come in the afternoon when this person wants to be napping instead. This can also tie into control and when someone has spent decades of their life in charge of their routines, it can be upsetting to change just to suit someone else’s schedule.
Involve their primary health care provider to see if depression could be a cause. Some people may just be feeling lonely or bored with no reason to shower and groom themselves.
Once you’ve identified the reason behind the refusal to get clean, you can implement a solution.
For example, make the bathroom less slippery by putting down wall-to-wall carpeting (instead of a throw rug that could move), adding grab bars in the shower or tub, or put in a special shower chair. Be sure to do this together rather than for them. This means that they might select the carpet (at a store or online) or you might take them towel shopping to spruce up the bathroom’s new look.
If they just don’t see a reason to get clean, create some activities and see if that leads to motivation. Schedule some fun outside of the house for them or invite friends to visit them at home for a meal or game or special TV show to watch together. The more engaged they are with their daily activities, the more inspired they might be to wash up.
Do what you can to make the idea of bathing fun by buying some scented bath soaps or shampoos, and be sure to acknowledge how great they look or smell when they have bathed and put on fresh, clean clothes.
As with all caregiving, don’t just try to go it alone. When someone can no longer take care of themselves, it can take many people and solutions to establish proper hygiene and well-being.