There are a wealth of questions on how to get aging parents to bathe – especially when the elder has Alzheimer’s or severe dementia.
One consideration is how often do elderly parents need to bathe? Since the U.S. is a melting pot of people from around the world, we have different cultures with different views on what staying clean means. In my high plains area, many of the generations now in their 80s and 90s grew up with weekly baths – sometimes because they lived out on farms and water was too precious to waste. For others, that routine was just normal behavior. We bratty “kids” would mutter under our breath they would bathe when they were “ripe enough.”
All of this is to say that if your elder won’t shower every single day, he or she is not going to die of some dreadful disease caused by “lack of bath” syndrome. For some elders, some fairly clean clothes and a weekly bath is what they consider enough. However, there are other issues to consider.
Watch for changes in attitude. A change in attitude is a key component with bathing, as it is with many aging issues.
If your elder has dementia, then you may have a more difficult situation on your hands. People can think they have just showered, but in reality, that was last week. Or, they can become confused when they begin the process, and rather than tell someone they are confused, they just avoid it. Or they can become afraid of the shower or bath because they don’t know what it’s all about or they think they will get hurt.
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Think about how frightening it would be to have water pouring down on your head when you can’t figure out the reason. Confusion and lack of understanding are bound to lead to fear.
Another issue that may contribute to an elderly parent whose bathing and grooming habits take a turn for the worse is depression. My mother was a clean freak, and she loved her daily bath. Her clothes needed to be fresh daily, preferably smelling of springtime.
When she made the decision to move to the nursing home where my dad lived, she went through the expected period of depression. One of the major clues was that she would put on the same clothes every day. Some of this was simply that she saw them laying on a chair and forgot that they’d been worn. However, some of the change in her behavior was because she was temporarily depressed.
Depressed people often don’t care about personal hygiene. They don’t care about their clothes. The just don’t care in general. If you see this happening to your elder, then you have a reason to be concerned. My mother’s depression lifted as she adjusted to the nursing home. I tried to hurry that along by buying her some new clothes and making good use of the nursing home beauty shop. These steps helped, and she was soon back to being to her clean-freak self.
If her depression hadn’t lifted, I would have asked the doctor to consider treating her for depression. If you find your elder has changed from a very clean person to one who doesn’t care about appearances at all, you may want to consider a checkup to see if depression is at the bottom of this change. This depression is especially prominent after the death of a spouse.
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