Practical and Usable Tips For Getting an Elderly Person to Bathe

Certified Senior Advisor®
senior man in tub getting ready to bathe

Seniors may not want to bathe often because of a fear for falling or even embarrassment over needing help. Here are some practical tips to learn why they may not want to bathe and ways to encourage them too.

senior man in tub getting ready to bathe
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Let’s admit it: we’ve all had those days when, for one reason or another, we don’t even want to get out of bed.

Maybe we’re battling a cold, maybe we’re feeling a bit sad, and sometimes we’re simply just tired. Whatever the reason, the result is the same. We want to lay under our blankets all day and sometimes even forget to change our clothes or take a shower.

It happens to the best of us! Most of the time, we’re feeling much better the next day and can go back to our usual routine.

But what happens when one of our elderly loved ones and aging parents are the ones in this situation?

Seniors can suffer from many health issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s to cancer and musculoskeletal diseases. These conditions can make them irritable, and make it cumbersome or even downright painful to hop out of bed and take a bath.

Maybe they are just afraid of falling. In many cases, taking a shower alone can even be dangerous for them.  Often, getting in and out of a bath tub is nearly impossible.

So, here are the best tips on how to get an elderly person to bathe. I’ve rounded up some great advice below:

Set a schedule

shower chair in the bathroom

It will be much easier for your elderly loved one to prepare for their shower or bath if you maintain a routine. Let them know when they’re supposed to bathe with some anticipation. This will take the unpleasant element of surprise out of the equation.

Select a time of the day when they tend to be most alert. And make sure to slot enough time so that they don’t feel rushed. Ideally, the time that is scheduled for the senior’s hygiene will also be free of distractions, such as noises or visitors.

If they have a home health care worker who helps, try to set a regular schedule for baths and personal care.

Create a positive environment

Make sure you are framing bath time as a positive, relaxing experience. Be kind to your loved one and don’t shame them if their hygiene has slipped recently. Be gentle when you point out body odors or soiled clothing. Explain to them why it is so important to bathe or shower regularly. Ask your loved one how warm they like the water to be before getting started. Playing soft, soothing music can also be helpful in making bath time a pleasant experience.

To ensure that they enjoy their bath or shower, keep their favorite scented shampoo or body wash close by. Apply a relaxing and moisturizing lotion after they are done. This won’t just make the experience more enjoyable. Proper skincare can also help prevent skin lesions. If the senior agrees, try combing their hair after the bath to make them feel pampered and relaxed.

Safety first!

shower head spraying water

Even if your elderly loved one is still capable of showering or bathing on their own, some simple safety measures will help make sure they stay safe. Something as simple as placing a slip-preventing mat inside the shower or tub will allow them to maintain a safe footing while cleaning themselves up. Make sure there are grab bars and sufficient lighting inside the bathroom, as well.

Once they feel safe inside the shower or tub, you will find that most seniors are much more eager to bathe or shower. Try using a handheld shower head for added safety – and convenience.

If your loved one is no longer able to shower on their own, a shower chair will let them sit comfortably and safely while you help them clean up.

For getting in and out of the tub and shower more safely, try wearing non-slip shower shoes for elderly people who are at a high risk for falls.

Talk to their doctor

If your loved one refuses to bathe, getting their doctor to talk to them can be tremendously helpful. Physicians can explain the importance of proper hygiene and help calm their anxieties regarding bath time.

In many cases, seniors will talk to their doctors more openly than to their caregivers. They are less likely to feel embarrassed while discussing their health with a healthcare professional. Their doctor can even help you by prescribing your loved one to take showers or baths regularly.

If they are in a nursing home or assisted living center, ask for help from the nurse manager. They experience this problem daily and can offer solutions too.

Be open to other options

tub and toilt in a safe bathroom

It can happen that you exhaust all your options and your elderly loved one still refuses –or is physically unable- to get out of bed for a shower. In these cases, a sponge bath will get the job done. Keep your elderly loved one warm and gather all your supplies before getting started. There are even waterless cleansers, bathing wipes, and no-rinse shampoos available on the market to make this task easier.

Place a waterproof mattress cover over the bed. Using a damp sponge, bathe your loved one starting from their head. In order to respect their privacy, you can uncover only the part of their body that you’re washing at the time. Wash their privates at the end of the bath, since these areas tend to be the dirtiest. You can also give them a massage while bathing them in order to improve circulation and make the experience more enjoyable.

Regardless, encourage them to take a full shower or bath at least once a week.

RELATED: Nutrition for Elderly People Who Won’t Eat

Give them something to look forward to

This option might not be available every day, but it can be extremely helpful. Whenever possible, schedule an enjoyable activity so that your senior feels compelled to take a bath or shower before leaving the house. Taking a walk in the park, going to a local museum, or trying out the new bakery shop will make them look forward to cleaning up and looking their best.

If leaving the house is too complicated for them, ask someone –a neighbor, family member, or friend- to visit them at a set time of the day. Knowing that they are expecting visitors can also be a huge incentive to be clean and tidy.


Being a caregiver to an elderly loved one can be frustrating at times. Having a senior refuse to bathe or shower can be one of those situations. Answer questions that the elderly person may have. Be kind and understanding while putting these tips into practice and you’ll find it much easier to get your loved one to maintain their hygiene.

Sometimes having the right bathroom accessories on hand will help them feel safer. Remember that they are dealing with aches and pains, while also struggling with complex feelings over the loss of their independence. A little bit of patience can be all you need to deal with these issues and help your elderly loved one improve their hygiene, health, and quality of life.

Do you have any additional tips to share for getting elderly people to bathe? Feel free to post them in the comments below!

Sources and Additional Resources

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Scott Grant, CSA®, ATP

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional
Certified Rehab Technology Supplier (CRTS®)

I have been serving seniors and the elderly for over 20 years as a medical equipment and custom wheelchair specialist for a regional medical equipment company. I am also a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not helping older adult improve the quality of their lives, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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1 thought on “Practical and Usable Tips For Getting an Elderly Person to Bathe”

  1. Just a short note to offer some good news re caregiving. It CAN be respectful and with privacy! I’d love to share with you how it’s possible, with a personal wear garment called The Honor Guard. No more free shows or embarrassing body exposure. I’m the inventor and the Executive Director of Dignity Resource Council. And I’ve written a book called Yikes, I Need to Give Mom a Bath!  Contact info is on our site~
    Blessings, Robin Lenart

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