How Often Should Seniors Bathe? 3 Essential Health Tips

It’s often a source of conflict, so many caregivers ask: how often should an elderly person bathe?

Bathing is a common struggle between seniors and caregivers

Getting an older adult to bathe is a struggle for many family caregivers.

The biggest worry is that not bathing will cause skin or urinary tract infections. Seniors might also get itchy or develop strong body odor.

But how often should seniors bathe to prevent health problems?

We’ve got 3 essential bathing tips to keep your older adult clean and healthy while minimizing arguments and stress.

 

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1. Seniors don’t have to bathe every day

Even though most Americans are used to showering every single day, it’s not a strict requirement for good health.

At a minimum, bathing once or twice a week helps most seniors avoid skin breakdown and infections.

Using warm washcloths to wipe armpits, groin, genitals, feet, and any skin folds also helps minimize body odor in between full baths.

However, some dementia caregivers say it’s actually easier to bathe every day. When bathing becomes part of someone’s regular daily routine, they’re much less likely to resist.

Of course, it’s essential to take your older adult’s specific health conditions into consideration when choosing a bathing schedule. Some people may need to bathe more frequently than others for medical reasons.

 

2. Running water isn’t necessary

Showering or bathing in the tub are the easiest and most thorough ways to clean the body. But if your older adult absolutely refuses or has limited mobility, a sponge bath will do just as well.

We found these helpful step-by-step instructions on how to give a sponge bath.

Here’s a quick overview:

  • Gather all your supplies and make sure your older adult is warm and covered up.
  • Start from the face/head and move down the body, saving private parts for last since they’re the dirtiest.
  • For warmth and privacy, uncover only the body part that’s currently being washed.
  • Wipe one area at a time and change washcloths between sections so you’re not wiping with dirty cloths.

If needed, waterless cleansers, bathing wipes, and no-rinse shampoos (regular or with cap) also work well. Some people may feel that these products leave a slight residue. In those cases, do a final wipe with a clean, damp cloth after cleansing with the solution.

And if your older adult enjoys their “no-water” bathing experience, they might be less resistant next time.

For additional comfort, try:

  • Making the room toasty warm
  • Playing soft, soothing music
  • Dimming the lighting a little
  • If using bathing wipes, warm up the opened package of wipes in the microwave in 10 second intervals.
  • Giving a back rub or arm and leg massages
  • Calling it “spa time” instead of bath time

 

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3. Careful personal cleansing prevents urinary tract infections

Using the toilet
Cleaning the perineal area thoroughly after using the toilet helps prevent urinary tract infections.

Get your older adult in the habit of using moist wipes, especially after bowel movements. They’re much more effective at cleansing than toilet paper – just be sure to fold to a clean section each time they wipe.

Adding an inexpensive bidet to the toilet is another option for keeping sensitive parts clean.

Important: Make sure women always wipe from front to back. That keeps bacteria from getting into the urethra and causing an infection.

Wearing incontinence briefs
If your older adult wears incontinence briefs, check every two hours or so and change them regularly so they’re never sitting too long in a dirty brief.

Cleanse thoroughly with a moist wipe during each change, making sure to wipe women from front to back.

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team

 

This article wasn’t sponsored, but does contain affiliate links. We never link to products for the sole purpose of making a commission. Product recommendations are based on our honest opinions. For more information, see How We Make Money.


21 Comments

  • Reply February 23, 2021

    michael howard

    My wife of 25 years is not comfortable with the shower because she wants to have specific worms and she cannot stand in the shower alone. Together, we found a solution and now she takes shower in the rehab center alone.

    • Reply February 23, 2021

      DailyCaring

      It’s wonderful that you worked with her to find a solution that helps her feel comfortable while showering.

    • Reply February 26, 2021

      Margo Ziegler

      These daily emails are extremely helpful to me. Thank you so much.

      • Reply February 26, 2021

        DailyCaring

        Thanks for the kind feedback! We’re so glad that our emails and articles have been useful.

  • Reply February 23, 2021

    Emily

    My mother is 87 with moderate dementia, hearing loss and low vision. She absolutely refuses to take a shower and physically can not take a bath. She will goes weeks at a time with no shower or changing clothes. She is very controlling and sorry to say but mean to her. She now has horrible body odor and the furniture smells from her. I don’t know what to do? I am exhausted. She refuses to let anyone help her.

  • Reply February 22, 2021

    Juana Anita Flores

    The best way to treat an elderly person is by allowing them to make some decisions. I have been a nurse for fifty years, in two
    gigantic hospitals, three nursing homes
    and for children that were mentally disabled
    and I loved my jobs. I would ask my patients
    what they wished , no matter what. Now I
    care of my disabled Veteran.

    • Reply February 22, 2021

      DailyCaring

      Absolutely, it’s important to ask a person their preferences and allow them to make decisions as well.

  • Reply February 20, 2021

    Noel Rosney

    Showering & Bathing time can be pleasurable, a lot of older people may not be mobile enough to get in to the shower or bath. The main aim is to make grooming time fun, & enjoyable for the person. This way the Person is looking forward to the next bathing time. Thank you Daily Caring for all the great tips.

    • Reply February 20, 2021

      DailyCaring

      So true, the goal is to make the shower or bath as pleasant as possible. So glad these suggestions are helpful!

  • Reply February 19, 2021

    Andrea

    I work in hospice as a CNA. We shower most of our patients twice a week. On occasion we get one that will only shower once a week.

    In my experience, many elderly people resist because they have lost the ability to do some things for themselves already and they want to maintain some control over their choices.

    Many others resist because their thin/thinning skin makes bathing an unpleasant experience due to being cold before/during/after their bath or shower.

    Some things that I have found helpful:

    Give them options that address their concerns. “You want to bathe twice a week? Which days work best for you? I’d like to be here to both ensure safety, but also to help make sure your bathroom is nice and warm before you get in.”

    If they have dementia/Alzheimer’s sometimes it’s best to not ask them if they want a shower/bath. Instead say something like, “It’s time to get cleaned up.” Or you can say, “Will you come with me?” If they have other routine parts to their day you can also use statements like, “It’s time to get cleaned up for supper.”

    When they complain about being cold during the shower I don’t sugarcoat anything. I say, “I know you’re cold. The shower will last just a few minutes more, so you’ll be cold for a few minutes, but I will help you get warm as soon as we’re finished.” When the shower is finished, I drape a towel over their head and shoulders, another one horizontally over the chest and shoulders, and a third one vertically to cover their legs. It helps them stay a bit warmer while I get them dry. Then I lotion them up and get them dressed. I blow dry their hair if towel drying didn’t get it dry. A wet head will make them feel cold long after their shower. It’s best to make sure it dries all the way.

    Leading them to a favorite seat with the offer of a warm blanket helps round out the shower experience, making it more pleasant for all involved. This gives them something to look forward to at the end of what might seem like an unwanted or dreaded task.

    I hope this helps some people. Working in hospice, I always love seeing patients being able to remain in their homes because their families are looking out for them. That’s not to shame families who choose to put their families in nursing homes – sometimes taking care of an elderly parent in-home is just not feasible.

    Much love to all!

    • Reply February 19, 2021

      DailyCaring

      Thank you for sharing these wonderful and kind tips!

  • Reply November 29, 2020

    Linda Coursey

    My father-in-law thinks once a year is plenty. He reads a lot of Louis LaMore books, over and over. He does not have alzheimer or dementia. 93 years old. Walks outside every day , but will lay in bed/slept up to 18 hours. Do I force the issue, hire someone to bathe him (may not accept)?

    • Reply December 10, 2020

      DailyCaring

      It sounds like this has been going on for a long time. It may be a good idea to speak with his doctor about your concerns. A medical professional is the best person to judge if his current bathing habits are ok for his health or if changes are needed.

    • Reply February 19, 2021

      Linda Petteway

      My grandparents were Coursey from Georgia!:)

  • Reply February 3, 2019

    Sheree

    My mother is 80. She’s a fall risk. I do not live close to her about 50 miles one way. How often should she be bathed? She only needs help getting in and out of tub. I wash her back. Help her dry off and make sure she dresses safely due to dizziness. Is once a week ok for a bath or more?

    • Reply February 3, 2019

      DailyCaring

      It’s best to ask her doctor how often she needs to be bathed. A medical professional is the best person to judge if her current schedule is keeping her healthy or if changes need to be made.

      • Reply November 4, 2020

        Janet Meadows

        I was a nurse aid for years thought this would help.

  • Reply November 3, 2018

    Luigi

    My father is 85. He is capable of taking a shower but he doesn’t have one every day. I have tried so hard to get him to have a shower every day but he refuses. It has caused me so much stress. I also noticed he was not changing his underwear daily!
    He says he knows when he needs a shower. After an argument it seems he has a shower every 2nd/3rd day . I prefer every second. He is quite sedintary but gets out in his garden most days as he loves his vege patch.
    How often should he shower and what is acceptable? What about underwear?
    Thanks for any tips.

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