Why A Senior May Not Be Bathing

Elderly adults can sometimes have a bit of an “old people” smell about them for a number of reasons. But if a older loved one is neglecting their personal hygiene after having been attentive to their appearance and cleanliness throughout their lives, something besides forgetfulness may be behind the change.

The appearance of an older adult; dirty stained clothing, unwashed hair or body odor can be a sign to friends and family that something isn’t quite right.  Elderly adults may be fearful of falling in the shower, unable to climb the stairs to the laundry room or simply can’t keep track of when they last bathed due to memory changes.   In some cases, lack of interest in bathing or keeping clean can be a sign of depression or even a stubborn retaliation for loss of control over some aspects of life.

Loved-ones should handle the situation carefully and treat their elders with respect, compassion and above all, patience.  By gently suggesting regular assistance with bathing or installing grab-bars, better lighting and removing any tripping hazards in the bathroom, elderly adults may be more receptive to regular showers.

Family and friends may also need to adjust their expectations as parents or other loved-ones become elderly.  Daily showering and perfectly cleaned and pressed clothing may have once been the norm, but may be unrealistic going forward in some situations.  Aim for pretty good, not flawless.

Depression isn’t a normal part of aging and should be treated as a medical condition.   Older adults are at an increased risk of depression, especially if they have at least one chronic health problem.

Signs of depression can include persistent feelings of:

  • Hopelessness
  • Guilt or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities
  • Fatigue, loss of energy
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Change in eating pattern
  • Difficulty making decisions, focusing or remembering details
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Persistent aches and pains that do not improve with treatment

Source:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If caregivers, friends or family notice some or even several of these symptoms in an elderly person, contact their health care provider for assistance.