Question: I am having trouble getting my father to take a bath. He smells very bad and gets mad if anybody says anything. What can I do?
Dr. Amy: When we are young and our bones, muscles, and internal organs work well, taking a bath or a shower is no big deal. When we are older and not as strong, bathing can seem like a chore. It can even hurt, if we have arthritis, or seem dangerous if our eyesight is failing or balance is poor. And of course, if we need help, modesty can be a barrier. If our sense of smell has become weaker, we may not even notice we don’t smell so fresh. And if we are suffering from cognitive impairment, we may not even realize that it’s been a week since we changed clothes.
Your dad may be dealing with any one—or all—of these challenges. I suggest you try the following approaches:
Talk calmly about bathing: You’re not helping him with bathing because he smells bad. You’re helping him because bathing is something he’s always done and today is the day.
Offer treats: Time the bath so he can enjoy a favorite TV or radio program, or a nice cup of tea, after he has had his bath.
Make bath time a routine: Establish a preferred time and day of the week for the bath. Perhaps it’s first thing in the morning every Sunday and Wednesday. Draw the bath, get all the gear you need, then tell your dad it’s all ready for him.
Make it a pleasant experience: If your dad loves fluffy blue towels and a particular brand of soap and shampoo, make sure you have that ready. Make sure the water temperature is perfect for him.
Offer choices: Ask your dad if he’d like to listen to Peggy Lee or Frank Sinatra while he takes his bath. This side-steps the question of whether he’s having a bath and gets right to what CD he is going to listen to while doing so. Or ask if he wants to use lavender soap or glycerin soap (or whatever he prefers)
You may not meet with success every time. Don’t be discouraged! This is a very common struggle for people all across the country. If your dad refuses despite your efforts, change the topic and try again later.
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