can't get mum to wash!


Registered User
My dad is the main carer for my mum who has alzheimers but I help on a monday and tues from 9.30 till 6 pm. Mum refuses to let dad care for her in anyway at all which makes things really tricky as she is now unable to do anything for herself. She now sleeps in her clothes (even her coat if she has it on) and won't change except when I insist. we're getting so desperate as mum hasn't had a bath in months now. The most she lets me do against her will is get her to remove her tights and put her feet in a bowl and change her clothes. (I have to pretend I'm caring for her feet and tell her the doctor said I must). I have tried to run baths but she goes hysterical and says she wants to die. She was always such a clean proud lady and it breaks my heart to see her like this. I pursuaded dad to involve carers which he eventually gave into but as he has to pay per hour he only has some one in an hour on a thursday. She manages to do the same as I do but she can't manage to do more either. Doctor's have suggested mum needs sedatives to calm her down but dad is not happy at the moment to try this. I think if he had reassurance that this would calm her enough to be able to clean her up properly each week that maybe he would try it. Has anyone any suggestions please??


Registered User
Jun 27, 2006
Is she perhaps frightened of water? That can happen. Have you tried wet wipes? I think a lot of problems along these lines are due to feeling insecure but I'm not sure how much help that is: knowing why and dealing with it are 2 different things.

Amber 5

Registered User
Jan 20, 2009
Hi Nici,
My mum lives on her own, but I have very similar problems with the washing/bathing issue. I speak to her on the phone most days more than twice a day, so know that she spends quite a lot of time lying on her bed (I think in her clothes). Her house is always very hot (at the moment she refuses to turn the gas fire off which I'm not happy at all about). She does get out to the shops etc. but I know hasn't had a bath for months either, (apart from the once as I say below). You can tell by the state of her bath, it hasn't been touched/used in ages. It's not pleasant and I really am at a loss as to what to do about it.

The SW has suggested a carer twice a day to give her tablets morning and evening, and maybe they could help her to bathe, by running a bath and setting up a towel, flannel, soap and talc etc. and be there to help her get out of the bath and get dressed if she needs help. I really don't think mum is going to accept it though.

When she stayed at ours for Xmas I ran a bath two days running for her. The first day she ignored it. The second day, she did actually get in. I couldn't believe it, but wished I had stayed outside the door to help her get out as she said she found it difficult to get up and out again. She also seemed to have some incontinence whilst here, so I've been to the GP with her who has given a tablet to try, but that is of course a very delicate issue with her too and she denied it to the GP! This of course makes a bath all the more necessary and she won't use the pads I supplied her with, so you can imagine!

I have also tried the washing feet and having a pampering feet session which I will try again. It is an effort for her to remove tights and put them on again, but will she accept help?!!!!! No!

I'm not quite sure what her washing entails, but she says she just has a good wash! It's sooo frustrating, when they won't accept help and you know they just need a jolly good bath. Like your mum, mine also used to be so particular and would have been the first to notice if someone wasn't as clean as they might!

I will keep reading to see if anyone has any bright ideas. I am worried that it will only keep on getting worse though. We are about to introduce carers to her, so I think we'll try to gain her trust in them first before daring to suggest a bath.

Sorry I can't really suggest anything to help you - I'm just having the same sort of problem.
Best Wishes,
Gill x


Registered User
Mar 23, 2005
Hi Nici,

I have tried to run baths but she goes hysterical and says she wants to die.
Doctor's have suggested mum needs sedatives to calm her down but dad is not happy at the moment to try this. I think if he had reassurance that this would calm her enough to be able to clean her up properly each week that maybe he would try it.
In some ways, the bathing issue is a symptom of your mother's anxiety and confusion. The whole process of disrobing (and how to actually dress and undress can become an issue for many people with dementia at some point), feeling cold and vulnerable, plus any fear of water that can develop - all those things could put someone off the idea of a bath.

Doctors don't suggest medication for people with dementia lightly these days. I would suggest to your father that he seriously consider letting the GP try your mum on a low dose some medication and that she be monitored closely. Does she have a community psychiatric nurse (CPN)?

It may work out that the medication will reduce your mother's level of anxiety, making life all the easier for her and your father. If that package includes an occasional bath, then so much the better.

Take care,


Canadian Joanne

Volunteer Moderator
Apr 8, 2005
Toronto, Canada
Scent of a Woman

Oh my, this post brought back memories. Memories of several years ago when Mum refused to bathe, was starting with incontinence and stunk to high heaven. I could smell her from 4 feet away - it was always a fight to get her to bathe & put on clean clothing.

Amber & Nici, my mother was so particular she always used two face flannels - one for her face and one for her body. I can remember saying to my husband after reading up on various behaviours when she was first diagnosed "Well, at least we won't have to worry about Mum not washing, as she's such a clean freak". Boy, were we wrong!:eek: It seems that hygiene was the first thing that took a hike.

I tried everything - sometimes things worked & sometimes they didn't. I would ask her to smell her armpits and if she said they smelled, I would get her to swab them out. I would stay in the bathroom when she went to the toilet & if she complained about the odour (reek more like), I would hand her a wet soapy cloth to clean herself with.

Getting rid of the tights altogether might be a good idea. They would certainly make going to the toilet more difficult. I used to tell my mother that she was having a wash as we were going somewhere special and I would be helping her. When I wanted her to undress, I would start with one item at a time & tell her to remove it. I would ask her if she wanted me to help or just say, slowly and not moving quickly "Here, I'll get that for you".

These things don't always work but you have to keep plugging away & trying different things all the time.

Good luck in your endeavours - I found the non-bathing periods extremely stressful.


Registered User
Jan 29, 2009
Its almost a relief to see the same sort of problems :-(

Have very similar difficulties with my Mum and like others - have tried lots of different things and I agree, the changes in what works one day and not another are immense.
Mums currently staying with me for ten days, first day of washing wasn't a huge hit - second day better as I said we both had to wash before going out. (I always do anyway - honest!)
Mum and I bought some moist toilet tissues yesterday that she has agreed to try to help keep her clean after morning loo visits - fingers crossed she likes them...
It's difficult isn't it... really glad I discovered this forum

Take care


Registered User
Jun 18, 2006
personal care used to be world war 3,but it gets easier!!

in our own experience,me as the husband and my daughter,to my wife and her daughter,who without her help my wife would not be here.
anytime washing and bathing was mentioned it like a battle,my wife has had this illness A.D., since the early age of 54,she is now going to be 63 in her next bithday in september this year.
her personal care was the first to go.
as she used to be so very clean and very very particular in everything,maybe thats why it was so very hard for her to accept help!!.
in her own personal care,now through our own experience its easier nad no problem at all touch wood!! well it was this morning!!,but thats how this illness effects the person,but in our own experience we do get better as carers and get to know a little better how to cope,unfortunately we cannot tell you how to do it,it just comes to you naturally,as for medication!! she is now on no more !! antiphysicotics!!! the best medication is none or very little,take care all..
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Registered User
Nov 24, 2008
Kelso, Scottish Borders
Hi from Kelso, Scottish Borders.
Ask the District Nursing service - through her GP - if they can arrange a weekly bath either at home or at a regular visit to a NHS residential facility. Or - just advice on how to help her bathing. Say a sedative medicine that morning to calm her might be a good idea.
Please let us know how you get on.
Trained and experienced strangers with a confident manner might be able to do a lot more for her than people she knows.


Registered User
Nov 24, 2008
Kelso, Scottish Borders

Me again!

I am ex-Army. Long time ago now.

The military have "drills" - important activities are done the same way and taught by repetition. So - when a young soldier comes under fire for the first time, his reactions, fieldcraft and weapon handling are instinctive - he does not panic and forget all his training. Quite good for his survival!

With my wife, Mary, as soon as we got the diagnosis, I set up various drills. Undressing and dressing the next morning are rituals complete with the same little jokes repeated every time with loving smiles. She ALWAYS has fresh clothes laid out the night before - no - no mountains of laundry - clean garments go the the bottom of the supply and come to the top a few days later. She cannot dress or undress without a lot of assistance.

Poor Mary has FTD - fronto-temporal lobar dementia - which advances very rapidly indeed making many sufferers virtually helpless in the first year or two after onset. The only way of keeping them clean is by running a routine similar to that of a baby. The average life span from onset is 6 years, so it is far swifter than Alz. Some patients have Alz as well as FTD - it is the FTD that takes them off rather than the Alz.

It is possibly too late to try this for many readers but if your LO is in the early stages of Alz or any of the dementias, a bit of old fashioned routine even if it seems unnecessary "yet" could prove to be of long term value.

Blessings to all,



Registered User
Feb 15, 2009
Dad doesnt know me

Its quite sad sometimes he know me sometimes not sometimes he thinks I am mum which died about 12 years ago he lives with my brother we have cares coming in during the day because my brother works christmas was hard because we moved resently and he did not know the new surroundings and he did get a bit nasty towards the end but came round and said did I hurt anyone I said it was ok but it very sad

bets daughter

Registered User
Feb 15, 2009
not remembering to bath

Mum was always bathing until about 12 -18 months ago when she went for weeks with out one so i suggested that i help as she was a little unsteady and i was afraid she would fall , this works although she still thinks she has baths alone as well , she also does not change her clothes except her pants unless i give it to her after her bath, it so sad when someone has been so fussy about thier personal care, very difficult to deal with.

kal d

Registered User
Jul 30, 2008
I too can't get my mum to wash properly, she refuses to let me help her, we have a shower with a good size stool in it,as my mums legs are not good, sitting does not help the situation as i need for her be get washed underneath! which is a huge problem, she tells me she has done it, but i know she has not, i still want her to have some dignity, don't know what else to do really?


Registered User
Jun 27, 2006
There are some bath stools that are sort of horseshoe shape which makes this cleaning a bit easier. Also a hand held shower makes it easier to clean the area in a less "hands on" manner. If it's really impossible, then there are portable bidets that go on top of the loo - maybe you need to deal with one thing and then the other.


Registered User
Mar 1, 2009
north wales
Cruel to be kind

Until about 6 months ago I took sole care for my mum who has vascular dementia, she still lives alone but close by. Most days she'd be dressed by the time I got there and assured me she had had a 'good wash' so I'd get on with medication, breakfast and some chores. Once or twice a week I'd persuade her that she needed a shower, after some grumbling I would help her in and out as the shower is over the bath but leave her to wash in privacy. Then one day she told me that something hurt a lot down there so I braced myself and got her on to the bed and found that she had a boil the size of an egg:eek: After a visit to the doctor and antibiotics I realised that I literally had to take a more hands on approach to her hygiene.
To begin with she would resist getting into the shower and have me wash her but I knew that I had to be firm and yes there were tears and a lot of abuse but I steeled myself and dealt with it all in the most matter of fact way. I reversed the parent-child role so that I dealt with her like I would have dealt with my children during the terrible twos stage, positively encouraging good behaviour and ignoring the bad. I'd distract her with funny sponges, nice smelly shower gel and shampoos and get on with the job as soon as possible finishing off with warm fluffy towels and styling her hair. By the time she was dressed she'd have forgotten the tears and tantrums. It's terrible to admit it but I find a lot of similarities between looking after mum now and mothering my children when they were toddlers.
About 6 months ago my employment changed and I realised that I had to get more help with mum so I now have carers in to help. They vary a lot in their approach and powers of persuasion so I still have to step in every now and again and she knows that there's no getting out of it with me around.
So I'm never going to win the most popular daughter contest in our family,that of course will always go to the one who visits for a day and a half twice yearly and takes her sightseeing and gives her the most amazing time. The rest of the year I'm the bossy one who makes sure she's clean and eats a few green things once in a while.:)


Registered User
Mar 12, 2009
I have only just come across this forum and I am glad I have.

My gran who has always been very close to me has been suffering for many years. My mum takes a two hour journey to see my gran daily and everyday experiences the same situations - one of the most upsetting is her pure refusal to wash. She too, was always so well groomed (I am seeing a pattern emerging).

Trying to help my Gran wash and change her clothes is such a challenge. On the odd occasion that my mum and aunt are able to get her into the bath she remains in there for about 90 seconds.

However, thanks to previous posters on the thread… we will persevere! :)

Margaret W

Registered User
Apr 28, 2007
North Derbyshire

Congratulations on being the one that gets things done!

I am proud to know you.

I can't really contribute to this thread cos me mum was always pretty clean, though definitely not pristine. Most days it was no wash at all, but two or three times a week, a strip-down wash and maybe twice a week a shower.

That seemed okay with me.

Just a point to you all. If you get a chance! Check under the boobs. If they are not washed regularly they can become very sweaty and the skin can start to peel off, being quite painful. Keep an eye on that. Maybe if you don't feel able to check, suggest mum puts some E45 cream on when she washes, and even if she doesn't wash, the E 45 cream will help.



Registered User
Apr 7, 2009
Its SUCH a relief reading this thread, and realising just how common this problem with refusing to wash is - I had begun to wonder whether it was our own private hell. And very encouraging to read contributions from other family members who had found the pong emanating from their loved one very difficult to put up with. On the very rare occasions over the past 6 months in which we have succeeding in getting a bath taken, it has generally been because a medical visit required it. And an instruction from the doctor is still obeyed....

Mind you, lurking outside the door I have to say I am not sure Mum actually sat down in the water for more than a few seconds, but there were lots of encouraging trickling noises....

Good luck all!



Registered User
Mar 2, 2009
Washing or not

I live with my mother(who has dementia and my children and the smell of old lady who won't wash is really a problem. And yes, like so many others she becomes abusive when I suggest she should take a shower and I think she likes to try and trick me by saying she has showered when she hasn't. Good luck to anyone trying to deal with this it is sooooo hard.