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How do I convince my mother to shower and change her clothes?

My mother refuses to shower wears the same clothes for weeks. Mum has lived in a nursing home for almost 5 years and has a very nice double room which she shares with her pet cat. Everyone loves the cat and she is a good companion to my mum. My mum was always very well groomed, she still gets her hair and nails done, but in the last 12 months her bathing habits have become more and more infrequent. During winter I think she didnt like getting changed out of her clothes, so would wear the same clothes for weeks.

I have told her that I hate to see her in dirty clothes, so have been doing her laundry, but have told her not to wear the clean clothes unless she has had a shower. The nursing home has mentioned to me that she is not showering because the shower is never wet and the towels are not being used. They have offered to assist in her showering but she refuses help.

This problem is only going to get worse with summer coming on, but I dont know what to do to convince her that she has terrible body odour and needs to take better care of herself.
Status: Open    Oct 06, 2015 - 06:21 AM

Dementia, Caregiving

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Expert Answers

Oct 09, 2015 - 12:14 PM

I, too, am surprised that a nursing home would not make sure that your mother is bathed. Is this a skilled nursing facility or an assisted living facility? It sounds more like it is assisted living. When my cousin lost interest in bathing, I had to step in and play the ‘bad guy’ and tell her that she will bathe and then discuss how and when the bath/shower will take place.

Have you discussed the problem with the nursing director to develop a plan of care? This works best with the involvement of your mum. Even if she doesn’t fully agree, she will at least know the plan. They can make some concessions for your mum so she feels like she is getting some consideration. (For my cousin, it was that they would let her sleep later and bathe her last.)

It would be helpful if you could be there when it is time to bathe from time to time. If this is an assisted living facility, you may have to consider a board and care or skilled nursing facility. You did not mention if your mum has dementia, but if she does, you might look for a place that works with people with dementia. They are used to working with people who are resistant to bathing and grooming.

Good luck in watching out for your mum. She is lucky to have someone like you that cares about her.



Oct 07, 2015 - 02:47 PM

I am very surprised that the facility has not stepped in to help her in one of the ADL's.
If they do not have the staff to aid her in showering you might want to think about getting an aid or caregiver in a few times a week to help her in the shower. It is amazing what a trained caregiver or aid can convince someone to do when family can not.
When my husband refused to change clothes I would just take his soiled clothes and put them in the wash and put clean clothes in the exact spot he lfet the soiled clothing. I doubt he ever noticed. Would it be possible for one of the staff members where she lives to do the same thing?
I do not know where you live you might want to check the state code to find out how many times a week showering or bathing is required. I was surprised to find out that in the state where we live a shower is required only 2 times a week. ( I found this out when he was in rehab) The staff where she lives should be able to assist her in showering or bathing a few days a week. This is something that they should help her with and this should not be up to her to decline. If she decided that she did not want to get up out of bed, walk, eat or take her medication would they allow her to go without food or medications?
Mabe calling it a "Spa Day" might help and make it a relaxing experience rather than a stressful one.

Oct 07, 2015 - 06:11 PM

Thank you for your feedback and advice. The staff at the nursing home are all very lovely, however my mother is very nasty to the staff when they offer to help her shower. It is very hard to get the dirty clothes off her back because I think she is actually sleeping in them. I am trying to deal with this myself instead of setting off alarm bells at the nursing home, as they are likely to put her into high care, which means loosing the pet cat, which would be devastating. When I explained to Mum that this may happen if she doesn't start to take better care of herself, she said that she would just refuse to go. She can be very stubborn and obstinate at times and does not realise how lucky she is to have such a lovely room and be allowed to keep the cat.

There is a chair in the bathroom if she needs to sit down in the shower and rails to hold onto, so I do not know what she is afraid of.

This is a situation that needs to be dealt with respect for mums privacy so that she is not humiliated or embarrassed or loose her dignity.

I will look into trying to find a carer that she might trust to help her but at the end of the day. . . . . . .What is her problem?????

Thank you for your assistance in this matter.


Oct 18, 2015 - 02:57 PM

My mother was resistant to showering too. She didn't like being cold when she bathed. This may be one of her concerns. Hiring someone to assist her may work, I agree they may be able to convince her to bathe better than a family member. An aide will take ano nonsense approach, getting the shower ready and expecting her to comply. Unless your mother is very active or sweats a lot twice weekly should be sufficient, their skin dries out as they age.

Oct 23, 2015 - 01:15 PM

Is there an activity that you Mom enjoys doing? An activity that she misses? You might try bribing her with it. "We will go to XX restautrant tomorrow, but I need you to shower tonight and get dressed up." Perhaps she used to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening that she no longer has. Use sparkling grape juice in a wine glass and ler her know that she can have it after her shower.

Also, as the disease progresses there are visual impairments. She may not see the bottom of the shower. Try placing a bright colored mat on the bottom. Also, use a hand help shower head. It works better.

Also, you may have to prompt her for the steps while she is in the shower. Was your legs, your stomach, your hair, etc.

Also, remember that back in your Mother's day they did not bathe every day. May 2-3 times a week. You could also, depending on her beliefs as to her age, tell her that her "Mother said she had to take a shower."

Good luck!

May 20, 2016 - 09:30 PM

I have dealt with this issue several times as an Occupational Therapist (OT). Does the facility offer therapy services? Or can the doctor order homecare for her? The reason I ask - the OT can usually be very creative in helping find a solution to this problem. One idea is to develop a routine surrounding bathing. For example - first we go to the bathroom. Then we turn the heater on. Then we get the towels. Then start the water... you get the idea. Another idea, regarding clean clothes, is to assemble an outfit for each day of the week and label it clearly. "This is Monday's Outfit." Maybe you can even put the date on it. This is a lot of work, but perhaps can start the momentum of the routine. I hope this may be of help to you! I wish you the best!
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