Why Do Elderly Refuse to Bathe? Cleanliness is Next to...

Learn how to overcome the challenges and maintain proper hygiene for seniors in assisted living facilities with these dementia strategies for bathing.

Why Do Elderly Refuse to Bathe? Cleanliness is Next to...

By Judy Morton

I don’t know what it is about the elderly and a refusal to take baths. My parents were always extremely fastidious about personal hygiene, even to the end of their lives. And when I had a nearly fatal bout with Type A Hepatitis just before I turned 9, stringent hygiene became even more extremely important to everyone in my family. But I have heard more than one caregiver complain about the difficulties of getting their elderly charges to bathe.

My best friend’s mom once bragged to him that as people get older, they don’t have body odor anymore, so don’t need to bathe as often. He had to tell her the hard truth that yes, they DO have the same amount of body odor; it’s just that their sense of smell was so diminished they could not smell when they stank. My reaction was to be grateful I didn’t have to deal with that issue with my mom. But now I’m facing this with my in-laws.

I’ve long suspected that MIL’s and FIL’s standards of personal cleanliness were not on a level with those of my parents’. Since I began doing their laundry almost a year ago, I’ve had more and more proof this is the case. I know that as people age, their senses diminish, including the sense of smell. I know that Alzheimer’s patients also lose such senses a bit faster than others. But when you practically gag being around them, you do have to wonder how anyone could miss such a pong!

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    This is really hitting home this week, because there has been a nasty virus going around their ALF, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. MIL succumbed to this virus, and was very ill. But she has refused for the past two weeks to be showered on a regular basis, and now I find that, for the second week in a row, she has also refused to allow her bed sheets to be changed. So she’s been sleeping in those sheets for 3 weeks; sweating (she keeps the thermostat at 80, then sleeps under a wool electric blanket and a heavy afghan), vomiting, and eliminating in them (I’m seeing more and more evidence of bowel and urinary incontinence) – and refuses to allow them to be changed.


    Aside from the virus issue, there’s the issue of how frequently she is prone to UTIs, so it really is important that she maintain personal hygiene better than she has been. Unfortunately, she is of sound enough mind to refuse services, and if she says no, they cannot force her to bathe and change. Also unfortunately, since she refuses to have her sheets changed, FIL’s have not been changed, either. I don’t know if he’s refusing because she is, or if the maids just take her refusal as a blanket one for both of them. The only thing we can do is call the management and tell them that the next scheduled change MUST be done, even if she refuses it again.

    Because I don’t care what anyone says; this is just plain gross.

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