Bathing is a common difficulty for elderly people, limited mobility and fear of falling can mean that they will do almost anything to avoid having a bath.

For caregivers, it can be concerning whether the elderly person in their care is bathing frequently enough.

So how often do elderly people need to bathe?

The good news is that whilst you or I might need to bathe or shower every day, elderly people do not need to.

A ‘wipe down’ with a warm wash cloth will be sufficient in keeping clean and minimising body odour in between baths or showers. 

Be sure that the elderly person uses the washcloth to wash armpits, groin, genitals, feet, and any skin folds to minimise the risk of odour or infection. It is also important to remind them to thoroughly dry any areas that are cleaned.

Their skin is delicate and could be prone to getting sore, and worse still, infection, if it is left wet regularly.

How often to elderly people need to bathe?

How often should elderly people bathe?

Bathing in a shower or bath tub is the easiest way to get an elderly person completely clean, with minimal fuss.

Bathing in a bath once or twice a week is sufficient to avoid skin breakdowns and infections.

Elderly people tend to have dry skin why doesn’t get as greasy or as dirty as a younger persons skin.

The same goes for their hair, many elderly people will be able to go much longer without washing their hair than us younger people. If washing their hair is a stressful and awkward job then they could always use dry shampoo to help prolong the time between washes.

How to get older people to bathe

Helping an elderly person stay clean

When mum originally moved in with us (see About Me) she had a relatively good amount of mobility and was able to shower herself, with a little assistance. I stayed in the bathroom to make sure she was safe and to help her in and out of the shower.

As the dementia progressed and her mobility failed, we found that a good wash down, a strip-wash as mum liked to call it, was enough.

We would do it in her room, mostly because this was always the warmest room in the house, tropical even, sometimes!

We placed a towel on the floor and mum would stand on it, and with the help of her walking frame (Best Rollator Walkers for Seniors 2019) we would begin.

We would each have a flannel, she was in charge of washing the front and I did the back. I told you I got all of the best jobs!

Using a bowl of warm soapy water we would wash her top to toe every single day. this was sufficient to keep her feeling clean and fresh, even after the onset of incontinence.

She could sit securely on her bed to dry the bits that she could reach and put her ‘top half’ clothes on.

Yes, her dignity was out of the window, but after a short time, neither of us minded. It simply became our daily routine.

She was a proud lady and wouldn’t have been able to stand the thought of anyone thinking she wasn’t clean and as fresh as a daisy.

Full body wash isn’t an everyday essential

If the person that you care for doesn’t suffer from any bladder or bowel weakness then a ‘freshen up’ everyday is sufficient.

If they’re not strong enough to stand at the wash basin and manage by themselves, then a bowl of warm water and some liquid soap is ideal to allow them to wash their face and neck, and to give their hands a good wash too.

Keeping an older person’s feet clean

This one is easy. Most oldies enjoy a foot soak, so offer it as a treat.

Sunday evenings in front of the television, mum would love nothing better than to sit with her feet in a bowl of bubbly, warm water.

Once they had soaked for 20 minutes, they just needed a quick wipe over with a sponge and they were lovely and clean.

Always remember to dry feet really well, as there are so many nooks and crannies that are prone to become sore, or infected.

10 Top tips for encouraging elderly people to bathe and stay clean.

  1. Invest in a bathing aid, such as a bath lift, or as a minimum, bath rails and handles, (these can be attach to the tiles via sucking cups.
  2. Make the room warm and cosy, they will be more inclined to want to get undressed to bathe if the room isn’t freezing cold.
  3. Baby wipes can be used, they are kind for sensitive skin and are easily used and disposed of. Wet wipes are good for elderly people to use after using the toilet, to minimise the number of times they need to bathe a week.
  4. If the elderly person needs to be bathed by their carer, dim the lighting a little to make them feel less exposed.
  5. Again if the person needs help with bathing, use a robe and only uncover the one area that you are washing at a time. This will help the elderly person to stay warm and not feel as embarrassed.
  6. Add an inexpensive bidet to the toilet, to help with keeping sensitive parts clean. They may have never used one before and may enjoy the novelty!
  7. Use dry shampoo to keep hair smelling fresh between washes.
  8. A warm flannel or towel wash will help to keep the elderly person clean each day and minimise the number of baths they need to take.
  9. If the elderly person suffers from dementia, you, as the carer may find it more useful to have them bathe everyday, a routine sometimes is less stressful than the occasional bath.
  10. Experiment with bath aids, there are some inexpensive ones that could improve the quality of bath time for elderly people, a bath seat or cushion for example may make sitting in the bath more comfortable and they may learn to love sitting, lying or relaxing in the bath. Older people have more frail skin and padding around bony areas so may find the hard bath surface uncomfortable.

I hope this has helped to alleviate any worries you might have.

Don’t stress about it, if there are times when you simply can’t manage to help your older person to bath or shower, it really won’t hurt anything.

They will feel better for just washing their hands and face and maybe having a quick spray of something that smells nice.

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