Posted on 1 Comment

Bathing Incentives

elderly resistant bather

Bathing Incentives for Elderly Patients

Many caregivers encounter resistance to bathing from the lady or gentleman they are caring for at home. Even patients in nursing homes can be reluctant or resistant bathers. This is a concern for everyone who has to be near them, caregivers and other family members too.  It is possible that the physical health of the person may be compromised by lack of attention to bathing and grooming.  Generally, it is a concern for the caregiver that the patient smells bad, looks bad, and doesn’t seem to notice or care.

Caregivers might handle this by directing stating, “Phew, you stink today.”   Probably, the patient will simply tell the caregiver where to go not-so-nicely. Or, the patient will deny any problem.

Others might worry about how the patient, particularly a parent or spouse, is looked upon by others. They may complain to the patient, “You look horrible.  Don’t you care about how you look?”  The patient might answer with a reply that shows depression or resentment, but probably not with a reply that shows any interest in cooperating.

Rather than get into a no-win situation with the patient and carry on arguments which only get louder and last longer, caregivers need to try some incentives to encourage, yes, maybe even bribe,  the patient so that they do not continue to resist bathing.

Here are some bathing incentives for elderly patients that might win their cooperation.

 Start Small with Choices.

Ask the patient whether they prefer a bath, a shower, or a wipe-down type of bath. Letting them make the choice gives them more of a voice and less to complain about to you. It is likely that you can start with just wipe-downs, then over a few weeks, gradually move up to a more thorough bath or shower with a shampoo too.  Realize that everyone has likes and dislikes, fears and discomforts, and these should be considered  seriously.

Consider Comfort and Luxury.

Dress up the process of bathing or showering by preparing a very comfortable environment. That could mean having the water warm or cool according to preference. Using scented bath soap, bubble bath, or bath lotion moisturizers that make the experience feel and smell wonderful could be important.  Keeping the bathroom warm and having warmed towels for drying off adds to the comfort.  Though many dementia patients do not have a normal sense of smell, having smooth lotion put on them and hearing  soft music playing can  make   the experience  pleasant.  Having a shave or a hair styling session afterwards can make it a complete grooming experience.  Caregivers should emphasize how good this must feel and how bathing makes one feel so much better.

Arrange a Reward.

What is motivating and interesting to the patient? Is there a television show or a movie they like? Is there a particular dessert they like or a place they like to go?  Arranging to have a desirable activity or a treat after a bath may make getting through bath time without a complaint worthwhile to them. Establish a routine of taking a bath, then receiving a reward, and you may find that  excuses and complaints about bathing will disappear.


Yes, that means getting paid to take a bath. It works to get kids to do chores, and it works to get adults to do their jobs.  Getting clean in some way is an unpleasant job for some people, particularly, to men, it seems.  So, pay them to take a bath, in any way they choose, though you have to give the final approval for the quality of the job. Tell them that they have to bathe sometime in the next two days, at a time that fits your schedule, and exactly what you expect: no body odor, no sticky hair, clean all-over.  However, the longer they wait, the less you will pay. In fact, the offer will expire after the deadline.

Does money motivate? You betcha.  Be sure to pay up every time as you agreed!

 An Outing or Occasion.

Going out for a regular outing or for a special occasion is enough to motivate most people to improve their appearance and can motivate bathing.  Whether it’s a regular trip to the store, or to attend a special family dinner, inviting the patient to bathe in preparation is an easy way to motivate them.  Remind them that tomorrow, they will be going shopping and they’ll want to wear that outfit they like. Tell them that tomorrow night, Granddaughter is graduating, and they’ll want to have a photo taken.   Considering how they look and how they smell in front of others can be a positive incentive for improvements. Again, keep the comments positive and encouraging, not critical.

 Hire Certified Nursing Aid bather.

It may be that a patient will respond better to a “professional” than to a family member in getting this task done.  A caregiver may realize that the “bath battle” has become a habit and that they have too often been drawn into the fight.  It may be that the caregiver is not really comfortable in doing the task. It may be that the patient knows just how to manipulate the caregiver or the situation.

Anyway, hiring a home healthcare agency bather is often  a better way to accomplish the task in an unemotional, efficient way.  A caregiver can tell the patient that the aide has been sent at the request of your concerned doctor, and he or she will work with the patient to be safe while bathing. If modesty is an issue, tell the patient, that the bather does this professionally and is not going to be judging or gossiping about the patient’s appearance. Not complying with the scheduled bath will be an inconvenience for many people, and the patient should be ready to bathe in some way when the bather arrives. I’ve heard of many situations where resistant patients were cooperative in bathing when a “professional” was there, not a family member. Many resistant bathers would never be defiant in front of a stranger.  Having an aide help the patient bathe may be a strong incentive to get that bath done regularly.

Make bathing a pleasant and standard routine, not an emotional scene where one wins and one loses. Think about an incentive that is workable for you and for the patient. Plan ahead to overcome objections and excuses.  If the patient won’t look forward to bathing, at least, they can see that this is not as bad as they thought.    We hope that a few ideas on bathing incentives for elderly patients will make everyone feel better about this task.

1 thought on “Bathing Incentives

  1. I love your point on focusing on the incentives of the activities rather than arguing about them what the patients. My brother is trying to get some home care services for our dad this year. We need to make sure he is being cared for by professionals that will keep him healthy and happy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *