Convincing a Senior to Bathe: Tips for Bath Time

Nothing strikes fear into the heart of an Alzheimer’s caregiver like bath time. Telling a patient in late-stage dementia that it’s time to bathe is like firing the first shots of World War 3. It triggers an onslaught of arguments and general hostility, and by the time you’ve won the battle and gotten them into the bath, you’ll be ready for a bath and an early night yourself.

In this guide, we’ll look at some of the ways you can simplify this process and avoid the inevitable drama of bath time.

Make the Bathroom More Inviting

It’s important to put yourself in their shoes for a moment. How many times have you stayed in a hotel with a relatively uninviting bathroom and thought to yourself, “I think I’ll skip the bath tonight and have a shower instead.” Maybe you’ve lived in houses like that, or maybe you live in one right now.

We’ve all been there. Generally, people are happy to shower anywhere but want to bathe somewhere inviting and relaxing.

Prepare the bathroom before they enter. Add mats to any cold and slippery surfaces and turn on the heating to add some warmth. Additionally, play some music and ensure everything is cozy, well lit, and inviting.

If it’s warm enough to generate a little sweat and inviting enough to make you wish you were the one bathing, it’s perfect.

Consider Mobility Accessories and Renovations

If you find that you’re breaking a sweat every time you get them into the bath and are tired after they’ve finished, you should look into making some changes. When you’re lifting, holding, and straining, all in an effort to keep them safe, it’s clear that the bathroom is not suitable.

Swap traditional bathtubs for walk-in baths, place non-slip mats on hard floors and in the bath itself, and add chairs/benches and grab rails. 

The home mobility industry has come a very long way in the last couple of decades and there are now multiple improvements you can make to the home, all geared toward providing a safer and more comfortable experience.

Some of these changes are expensive, but there are always cheaper alternatives. Furthermore, you may qualify for Medicare savings, which can significantly reduce the costs of those renovations and installments.

Create a Routine

Routine becomes habit and habits are easier to maintain. Create a routine that involves daily bathing and, eventually, they will come to embrace bath time and understand that it’s as much a part of their routine as dressing, eat, and sleeping.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t need to bathe every day. The point is to create that routine, cement those habits in place, and make your life easier.

Routines, in general, are very good for getting things done, but they are particularly useful in dementia patients as they help to reduce their stress levels.

It doesn’t have to be at the same exact time every day, but it should be in the same place on your daily checklist. For instance, it may come at the end of the day before their final meal and after they have been for a walk or done some light exercises.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Individuals with dementia don’t always respond in the way that you expect. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them they smell; if they don’t want to bathe, they won’t. 

Instead of having a useless argument, you need to give them positive reinforcement. Rather than warning them about the perils of bad hygiene, remind them how soothing and comforting the bath will be. It’ll cure those aches and pains, and warm them up a little.

Afterward, there will even be a snack or a nice hot cup of cocoa waiting for them. The more you associate these positive experiences with bath time, the easier it will be to convince them in the future.

Don’t get angry with them and don’t try to reason with them. At best, you’ll just make life harder for yourself and at worst, you’ll make them angry or irritable. Stay calm, stay positive, and if that’s not working, run the bath and lead them to it. Remind them that when they’re nice and clean, you’ll play a game, watch some TV, or enjoy a treat. 

You’re in it Together

Whenever you’re encouraging them to bathe, use a calm voice, and always speak as if you’re going through the process together. It’s not “your bath,” it’s “our bath.” It’s not “do this for me,” it’s “let’s enjoy this together.”

You’re telling them that there’s nothing to worry about because it’s an experience you’re having together. You’re not lying, as you’ll be there every step of the way, ensuring they stay safe and get the help they need.

Keep them Warm

Keep their exposed body parts covered when they are not being washed or submerged, and wrap them in a warm towel as soon as they step out. No one enjoys the feeling of stepping out of a warm bath and into a cold room and it’s worse for people suffering from dementia and relying on others to keep them warm. 

You want to create an experience that they will enjoy. Otherwise, it will be harder to convince them to do it again.

Guide them Through

Before you start washing them, tell them what you’re going to do, thus avoiding any surprises and negating any potentially violent or upsetting reactions. For instance, you can tell them that you will now wash their back or their neck, first adding the soap then washing it away.

They will likely have retained knowledge of these processes, even if they can’t actually perform them. By announcing your intentions before you begin, you’ll give them a sense of control and prevent any unexpected responses.

Conclusion: The Importance of Bathing for Seniors

It’s tempting to skip bath time and opt for simpler and stress-free bathing options, such as adult wipes. You’re tired, you’re stressed, and the last thing you want is to fight with the care recipient over a bath.

Regardless, regular bathing will reduce the risk of infections and improve their overall health. More importantly, it keeps body odor to a minimum, which makes your life decidedly easier and considerably more pleasant.