7 Creative Ways To Get Seniors To Take A Shower (And Why They Won’t)

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional
Updated:

There are moments when it will be a struggle to convince a senior to take a shower. So in this article, we share with you 7 creative and helpful ways to get seniors to take a shower.

Get Seniors To Take A Shower
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Many caregivers struggle and fight their seniors when it comes to taking showers. You may assume this is downright stubbornness from seniors, but there are reasons – some medical – explaining why seniors shy away from getting wet.

Keep reading to understand better why your elderly loved one refuses to shower and some tips to make showering easier on them as part of their overall safe showering plan.

Why Your Elderly Loved One Refuses to Shower

Despite your best efforts to get an elderly loved one to take a bath, they simply won’t budge.

There are the good days when everything is a walk in the park, and then there are bad days when things get heated and sometimes violent.

To help you handle such situations better, here are some reasons why seniors refuse to shower.

1. Control

Aging comes with increased dependability. Seniors experience a lack of control in many aspects of their lives.

They rely on you for so many things like changing their clothes, feeding, caring for them, walking them around, and so much more. These are all things they used to do themselves – without your assistance.

It is, therefore, understandable that an aging loved one would wish to keep control over private activities like using the bathroom. It’s the one area where they believe they still have a voice.

How, after all, can you force me to take a shower against my will, yet body odors aren’t harmful?

2. Depression

Depression wears many hats among the elderly. For some, it impacts their hygiene and becomes a refusal to bathe.

When a senior suddenly becomes disinterested in maintaining their body hygiene, it may be time to check in with their doctor.

It is wise to confirm if the sudden change in moods is attributable to low energy levels, a lack of interest in general activities, or a more severe issue like depression.

get seniors to take a shower fear
Moving around a wet bathroom could be daunting for seniors.

3. Fear

It is no secret that the leading cause of household injuries stems from bathroom falls. Imagine how daunting it would be for a senior with mobility constraints to step into a room with hard and slippery surfaces that may lead to slips.

To make matters worse, moving around a wet bathroom to reach for supplies or when changing does not inspire any confidence in the seniors. They may already struggle with many physical issues, and the fear of injury makes showering a hard pass!

4. Reduced Sense of Smell

The five senses we are gifted from birth gradually begin to fade as age creeps in. With seniors, their sense of smell weakens, making them oblivious to odors like sweat, urine, and other bodily odors.

What may seem like a pungent smell to you may not even register with our elderly loved ones.

5. Withdrawal from Society

With a reduction in social engagements and activities, many seniors see no point in taking a bath if they’re not going to show up either way.

Whether it could be from fewer social connections or physical challenges, seniors become less motivated to shower and will put up a fight at the next instance.

6. Lack of Energy and Discomfort

For the elderly, bathing is a tedious task that requires both mental, physical, and psychological preparation. Aging may affect one of these three facets of a senior’s life, and when one or more of these stimulations is lacking, there’s no motivation to shower.

If they do shower, the discomfort experienced when moving into a colder room is enough to discourage your loved one from attempting it again.

7. Dementia

It is not uncommon for people with dementia to resist bathing. That’s because forgetfulness is a common occurrence among such seniors. Some have cognitive dementia that is associated with poor hygiene.

Dementia also brings issues such as poor timekeeping, behavioral changes, and sensitivity to stimuli. In addition, fear and confusion may drive seniors to think that bath drains can suck them away or they may drown in a bathtub.

How to Get Seniors to Shower (7 Useful Cues)

Now that you know that your loved one is not disobeying you or being deliberately stubborn, do you feel a bit empathetic? We bet the next shower time will be much easier, right?

Here are some creative and fun ways to make showering a better experience for them.

1. Be Compassionate

As an average and healthy adult, you tend to take simple activities of daily living for granted. That’s why it is worth exercising compassion and putting yourself in your seniors’ shoes.

By showing kindness and patience, you can understand their struggles and help them overcome them instead of dismissing them as childish or irrelevant.

2. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Before you engage in unending battles regarding showering, sit down with your elderly loved one and show them how the experience will be a team effort.

Instead of pointing out that it is their responsibility to shower with phrases like “you need to stay healthy,” switch the narrative and use a “we” approach.

This change in wording helps seniors see you on their side and are more inclined to comply.

get seniors to take a shower easier
Your elderly loved one may highly prefer to maintain their independence when taking a shower.

3. Make Bathing Easier

You’ve finally managed to get your elderly loved one into the bathroom. What a great win! Of course, they want to maintain some independence and take a shower unassisted.

However, all the bathing supplies are out of reach, or their shower chair isn’t adjusted accordingly.

These small things make them retreat from the shower and back to square one. Before they shower, ensure everything is ready to use and at arm’s reach. You could also improve their safety by adding safety chairs and grab bars.

4. Incorporate a Daily Routine

Maintaining a daily routine helps many people sail through the day with ease. The same applies to showers.

When you incorporate daily showers at specific times for seniors, showering becomes just another routine task as eating or feeding their furry feline companions.

In some instances, daily routines may not work out, so it is ok for elderly people to not shower every day!

5. Use Positive Reinforcement

Instead of getting into an argument that will leave all parties aggravated, use simple and short sentences that focus on positive and fun activities. For example, wink at your senior and hint that the bathroom is warm enough to enter.

When walking towards the bathroom, engage in conversation about which snack they would like to munch after showering.

6. Warm the Bathroom Beforehand

No single person likes the cold and shivering that follows after showering. This situation is worse for seniors as they will associate this discomfort with showering.

To mitigate this, warm the bathroom with a heater for at least 20 minutes before they step into it. You could also place a warm towel over the toilet seat as they remove their clothes in readiness for a splash.

RELATED: Shower Alternatives for the Elderly

7. Give Options

When facing challenges with getting seniors to shower, give back control to them and let them choose over several options. Are they not feeling like a shower today?

Perhaps a warm bubble bath will brighten their mood. A choice between strawberry-scented shampoo or a coconut-themed one – or maybe a mix of both – will make for a comfortable and pleasant experience!

Shower Time Can Be a Fun Time for Seniors

Shower time for seniors should be a fun and enjoyable experience. When you understand and appreciate why they are opposed to showering, only then can you find creative ways to make a trip to the bathroom a positive experience. 

Sources:

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional

Scott Grant has spent more than 20 years serving seniors and the elderly in the home medical equipment industry. He has worked as a manufacturer's rep for the top medical equipment companies and a custom wheelchair specialist at a durable medical equipment (DME) provider in WV. He is father to 4 beautiful daughters and has three terrific grandkids. When not promoting better living for older adults, he enjoys outdoor activities including hiking and kayaking and early morning runs.

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