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Posted: August 31, 2008

Easing Mom or Dad Quietly - and Often - into the Bath

Caregiver Tip

You may have noticed that reluctance to bathe is a real problem for your elder, especially if you're caring for someone with dementia.

Refusal to bathe is one of the biggest difficulties caregivers deal with on a regular basis. The biggest question is, "Why is this such a hassle?"

The so-called experts have a litany of reasons: embarrassment, frustration, believing that it's already been done, feeling chilled, and general crankiness are all possible answers. One of the things I rarely see mentioned is an extraordinary sensitivity to noise, although it can be so true.

Drive Longer, Stay Independent
We all know that people with dementia have difficulty processing information. Those with dementia are often also hypersensitive to sounds, which they can't filter according to importance. Being in a noisy environment can be painfully disturbing for them -- and a busy bathroom can be just that.

The next time you are in the bathroom, turn on the bath or shower water. Do you have to raise your voice to be heard above the noise of the running water? If the room isn't carpeted, is there an echo in the room? Running water, raised voices and sound reverberation can be excruciating and terrifying for someone with dementia.

(Parenthetically, I can only imagine what some tiled nursing home bath/shower rooms must sound like to someone who's hypersensitive.)

If your elder usually bathes in the shower or on a stool or bath bench, invest in a hand-held shower wand that permits you to control the flow of water from the shower head. Leave the water "off" except when you need it. This will reduce the shower noise. Try ear plugs, if your elder will tolerate them. If ear plugs don't work, try noise-muffling ear protectors (these are $12.99 at Amazon right now). Remember to keep your voice low and soothing. Avoid playing the radio or anything else that creates extra noise in the bathroom.

If your elderly loved one is upset by the sound of water running over their head, try shampooing at the kitchen sink while they are fully dressed. You can purchase a rinse tray to make this easier at any beauty supply store, either locally or online.

Do anything you can to decrease bathroom "echo" by using washable wall, window and floor coverings that absorb noise. Lots of hanging fluffy towels also will help.

There are no guarantees that a quieter bathroom will reduce your elder’s reluctance to bathe, of course. But a quieter and more peaceful room will certainly make the experience more pleasant for everyone.


Molly Shomer is a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. She is a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues and the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is, and she can be reached at

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