As promised, a post about bathtime.

Those of you who have never cared for an elder may not be aware of this, but it seems that many seniors have to be convinced to bathe. I had never given it any thought until Grandma moved in and I encountered it myself. Her resistance to it is remarkable for someone who is generally so easygoing. It’s pretty much the only thing that we argue about.

In the early days, I could always convince her to take a bath if we were going to go somewhere or have a visitor. Otherwise, a typical conversation goes something like this:

This is actually Grandma goofing while getting her hair washed at the salon, But it sums up how she feels about being asked to take a bath.

This is actually Grandma goofing while getting her hair washed at the salon, But it sums up how she feels about being asked to take a bath.

Me: Grandma, I set up the bathtub for you so you can take a bath.

Grandma: But I just had a bath yesterday!

Me: …No…the last time you had a bath was two weeks ago.

Grandma: (making a face) Noooooo!

Me: It’s true…

Grandma: You don’t know what I do when you aren’t here. I can take a washcloth and take a spongebath.

Me: Well, I wish you would! So where’s the washcloth?

Grandma: ….

Me: What day is it?

Grandma: The day after yesterday, what does that matter?

Me: If you don’t know what day it is, how do you know you had a bath yesterday, or if it was day before yesterday or last week or last month?

Grandma: I think you’re calling me a dirty old woman!

Me: Well…

Grandma: I don’t stink do I?

Me: …Yeah…kinda.

With that she used to toddle off to the bathroom. I would hear water running and there would be splashing sounds, but I was never completely sure whether she was bathing. Though she generally smelled better when she came out, so I left it alone.

I looked the phenomenon up on the internet thinking that others had encountered it and sure enough, there were a ton of stories from people who had experienced the same thing. There are multiple theories about why seniors are resistant to bathing. From the obvious fear of slipping in the tub, to the way the water feels on their skin, to simple resistance to being told what to do… Whatever the case may be, loving persistence and sometimes outright insistence are required.

Lately, it’s gotten tougher. As she’s getting weaker I think she’s got a lot more fear of falling than she used to. And as she’s getting more senile she uses it as a way to assert her independence. It’s the one thing she chooses to take a stand on, albeit in a passive-aggressive sort of way. Recent conversations go like this:

Me: Grandma, it’s time for a bath.

Grandma: Okaaaaaaay…

Thrilled, I prep the bathroom for her and get out clean clothes. She goes into the bathroom and…then comes back out and goes to bed. This will sometimes go on for days in a row. Even once I get her to agree to take a bath, there’s no guarantee that she’ll get in the tub, or use soap…it’s very frustrating.

I have made every effort to make bathing as easy, safe and pleasant for her as possible. I bought a fancy detachable shower head to make it easier for her to wash her hair…she’s got a bath chair, a no-slip mat and handles on either side of the tub. Short of installing one of those walk-in bathtubs with a door that I’ve seen on TV I think she’s got everything she needs.

Most recently, I’ve engaged Jackie from home health to help (I realize that that is part of what home health is for, but Grandma is a very modest person and I didn’t think she’d ever allow someone to help her take a bath). One day I was getting more and more frustrated and Jackie jumped in. “Norma, you get into that bathroom right now. I’ll help you wash”.

Grandma protests, but Jackie is persistent and basically herds Grandma into the bathtub. Jackie supervises and lets Grandma wash herself, though she does scrub Grandma’s back for her. Afterwards, Jackie will rub lotion onto Grandma’s legs and trims her nails for her. Grandma actually seems to enjoy the pampering.

I’m hopeful that we’ve started a new chapter and I can turn this task entirely over to Jackie. I hate pestering Grandma about it, and the last thing I want to do is peek in on her to make sure she’s bathing. There are some things you just can’t un-see!

3 thoughts on “Bathtime!

  1. Karen Stevens

    Rob, I cared for my 95 year old grandmother for her last couple of years.
    And then, for my elderly mother in her declining health.
    Yes! Agree with this completely.
    Bath time was at the heart of nearly all of our struggles.
    (AND..I am an RN. I know how to do these things.)
    They both HATED it.
    I used bath chair, hand-held shower nozzle, etc etc. I would overheat the bathroom before heading in.
    My mother would slap me throughout the entire ordeal.
    My grandmother would say the nastiest things!
    It was a once or twice a week thing. You have described it perfectly!
    I feel for you… I think giving this task to home health is the right way to go.
    Press on!


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