1. chrisban

    chrisban Registered User

    Mar 11, 2009
    How do you tell your mother she smells? My Mum seems to have stopped washing and doesn't change her clothes every day. She doesn't seem to get undressed completely for bed, just maybe takes off her skirt.

    I find it difficult to approach the subject as she is very touchy and I think she would not want to discuss it with me. I don't want her to fall out with me, but she needs to wash.

    Has anyone got any ideas? It has to be something on a regular basis, not just a one off.
  2. jenniferpa

    jenniferpa Volunteer Moderator

    Jun 27, 2006
    #2 jenniferpa, Mar 11, 2009
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2009
    Hi and welcome to Talking Point.

    I don't know whether it will make you feel better but your problem is not a unique one. Part of your difficulty will be that if she has any level of dementia, your first battle over this and your tenth battle is likely to be the same - part of the dementia can be an inability to learn new procedures. If you're lucky, it will simply be that she is losing track of time, and a simple reminder (it's Friday, bath night) will be enough. More likely is that she will refuse to accept that she is not bathing regularly. Any intervention on your part is probably going to be based on how close you are to her in a physical sense - this is not something that can be done long distance,

    Different people will find they are more comfortable with different approaches. Personally, I had more success with a more matter of fact approach, but others say making it more of a treat works (bubble bath etc). You also need to find out if she's actually frightened of bathing - many people are. I have to say, it isn't absolutely vital for health that someone regularly immerses themselves in water - a strip wash may be adequate. Also I think we are more used to showering every day, while once a week may be adequate, provided clothes are changed regularly.

    So I suppose I'm asking - what do you consider to be your base line? Maybe we can make suggestions to get to that point.
  3. Amber 5

    Amber 5 Registered User

    Jan 20, 2009
    I have the exact same problem with my mum. One thing I would say is don't tell her she smells!! My brother tried that and she was extremely offended and didn't want to speak to him for a while afterwards. (It has all blown over now, but it really didn't do anything other than upset them both as well as me and my SIL).

    I don't really know the answer, as it is a constant source of worry to me, especially as I don't live near her. She has carers coming in am and pm at the moment, mainly to give meds, but supposedly to prompt things like washing, eating etc. However, my mum is pretty independent still (or likes to think she is) and insists that she does wash. Carers informed me that she was still wearing the same clothes she was wearing 2 weeks ago, so today I managed to get her to change out of the skirt and cardigan to wash them along with bedding and pants. (At least I could see that she has been changing her pants every day - I think). Trouble is that she should also be using pads which I have supplied - they have been sitting beside the toilet for weeks, untouched!! She smells of urine a bit, and I can only see this getting worse. (I did manage to get her to see the Dr about it and gave him a urine sample to check and he prescribed a new tablet to help). I think it might have helped a little, but really - how do you get them to bathe? My standards have had to drop, but the only bath I know mum has had in AGES was when she was here at Xmas. The second attempt at running her a bath and leaving a towel, talc etc. out worked. Don't know why - but I was able to run it before she was dressed. Every time I visit her now she is already in clothes and won't entertain the idea of getting undressed again, especially not to go in the bath - which she says she doesn't like and feels lightheaded. I have explained that I can help her so if she feels dizzy I will be there, but always I get NO thanks.

    Sorry, I haven't helped at all, but just so you can see you are not alone. I will read any replies with interest to see how we can move on a bit.
    Gill x
  4. Canadian Joanne

    Canadian Joanne Volunteer Moderator

    Apr 8, 2005
    Toronto, Canada
    Just goes to show how individual this disease is. I did a few times tell my mother she smelled & would have her smell her own armpits. That pushed her to agree to a bath a few times. I remember once when she went to urinate. When she dropped her drawers, she looked up at me and said "It smells", which, oh Lord, it did as she had probably had those pants on for a few days. I leapt on that as an opportunity to get her to wash.

    I too have used bubble bath or the "Shower or bath, Mum?" approaches. Maybe the idea of going somewhere special would make your mother more inclined to have a bath or at least a wash of the essentials. Good luck.
  5. Sandy

    Sandy Registered User

    Mar 23, 2005
    Hi chrisban,

    You've already has some good advice, but you might want to look at this factsheet on the Alzheimer's Society's website:


    This is a really common problem but it can have very specific causes - fear of water, difficulty dressing/undressing, difficulty remembering sequence of events to bathe or shower, unease about being unclothed, lack of sense of smell/time - it can take some time and discrete observations/experiments to find out which of these might be the main issues for your mum.

    The solutions are equally individual and may also involve some experimentation. If your mum enjoys pampering then the bubbly bath before the trip to the hairdressers may be the way to go.

    Has your mother been seen by her GP or had a diagnosis of dementia?

    Take care,

  6. Cate

    Cate Registered User

    Jul 2, 2006
    Newport, Gwent
    Hello Chrisban

    I had the same difficulty with my mum, due to her AD she developed aquaphobia. She became terrified of water in particular on her face. Bathing became a 'cat lick' with a face cloth, but it worked fine on a good day, other days we just left her alone, it wasnt worth the upset.

    Her clothing I used to sneak away for washing, and when she moved to the NH the girls used to sneak her clothes out of her room at night, wash and dry them and put them back in time for wake up in the morning, mum felt comfortable wearing the same things day in day out. Thankfully the hairdresser at the NH used to use a 'back wash' and ensure that no water went onto mum's face.

    Its a difficult one, but I would suggest rather than a battle you try to find a way of getting mum clean without upsetting her. Hard I know.
  7. sumosumo

    sumosumo Registered User

    Aug 20, 2008
    Isle of Man

    Hi Chrisban

    It's horrible. See my previous links on your very problem.

    I don't believe my mum has had a bath/wash for three and a half years now and as you would expect; there's an odour. We asked Social Services on how to approach the problem and their response? Baby wipes. I haven't returned for more advice and neither have I attempted the BabyWipes. What have I done? Nothing. Mum is very smelly and I am actually now hoping that it gets so bad that third parties will HAVE to intervene. I have no other avenues.

    I ran a bath some months ago (we had a funeral to go to). She screamed and screamed swearing she had bathed the previous night. The bath was not used that night.

    Yesterday she was taken for an x-ray and my sister tells me that she just could not breath through her nose in the cubicle as it was so rancid. Hopefully radiology will have put it in her notes. Perhaps eventually someone will then help with this problem; which clearly, is so common.

    Like has been said earlier, it's not a concern for health. Of course, it is extremely unpleasant but probably not for your mum. As usual, it is the rest of us that struggle with it as we know it's bad - they don't. Conclusively, the bathing is so that WE feel better.

    I haven't any advice for you but just wanted you to know you are not alone. x
  8. Pollyanna

    Pollyanna Registered User

    Jul 8, 2008

    We have expereinced exactly the same problem with my nan.

    If left she'd never go near water again and would always refuse to have a wash if she was given the option.

    When she started having daily carers it became easier as she was told what was happening. There were times that she refused but we were lucky that she had a fantastic carer who knew how to handle the situation.

    Half the problem is that my Nan was from the generation who used to have a bath in front of the fire. She didn't have her own bathroom until her 30's or 40's :eek:.

    Even in her pre-dementia years she would never consider bathing or showering too frequently.

    The care home have the responsbility now although I'm quite sure they have battle too!! :D

  9. chrisban

    chrisban Registered User

    Mar 11, 2009
    problems with washing

    I so want to thank you all for your replies. I haven't done this before and the amount of support I feel is out there is quite overwhelming. I cried when I refreshed the page and saw so many replies - I thought there were none at first as I forgot to refresh it!

    I think you are all saying that if they are happy that is the main thing. I'm going to try the bubbles thing but as you say the problem is a new one every time you have to deal with it. We've tried the carers suggesting a bath, running it etc but she just fell out with them.

    It seems my mum doesn't really undress for bed so there isn't a natural time to wash before she dresses again. I'm going to just take things to wash now, and that might help with the smell. We are not close in that physical way so she wouldn't be happy for any one to see her undressed.

    Thanks again. I feel happier knowing other people have experienced the same thing.

  10. Grannie G

    Grannie G Volunteer Moderator

    Apr 3, 2006
    Hello Chris

    My husband finds dressing and undressing very tiring but refuses my offers of help.
    Perhaps this is one of the reasons your mother does not undress fully, it is just too much effort.
    The problems my husband has is;

    • putting clothes on the right way round
      organizing the correct arm into the correct sleeve
      putting the correct leg into trousers and underpants
      and the order in which they are put on
  11. jenniferpa

    jenniferpa Volunteer Moderator

    Jun 27, 2006
    I think the difficulty dressing and undressing is something that we underestimate sometimes. I'm remembering that my mother, before she became ill, when when she was in her 80s regularly dressed in for want of a better word a kaftan, even during the day sometimes. Actually right at the end of her life I made her some more because that was just about all she could deal with - waistbands were too constricting etc.
  12. rose_of_york

    rose_of_york Registered User

    Mar 22, 2008
    This seesm to happen to a lot of people. My mother (who used to be fastidious) doesn't appear to have had a bath for ages.

    She says that she washes her towels and sheets every week, yet I know the washing machine hasn't been on this year (when I started checking) as it is stuffed full of papers and plastic bags.

    Any offers to take things to wash for her are met with deriosion of course.
  13. Lotti

    Lotti Registered User

    Jul 31, 2007
    Hi Chrisban

    My mum did strip wash, but she would like to wear the same few clothes over and over, how I got around that was to ask her if she had any few 'bits' to make up my load. Because she thought she was helping me fill my washer up she would let me take the items. I did however have to get them back as soon as possible. As the dementia progressed, I was there when she would go to bed and she too didn't undress completely, she would sleep in her underskirt, so I would take away the other clothes and lay out fresh on a chair for the next day.

  14. chrisban

    chrisban Registered User

    Mar 11, 2009
    regular washing

    After reading all your replies I felt so much happier seeing my Mum without having to worry about persuading her into the bath. In fact she had had her hair done that day and I realized one thing a day is enough for her as she had started to become agitated.

    I did take her some new clothes that I had bought her in a much bigger size in the colours she likes - half price sale at Sainsburys! Then I just took the clothes that needed washing or that she has grown out of and put them in my car. She hardly noticed. I just said they were going in the wash. Now I'm just going to take some every so often as needed. I think this will help any whiffs we've been getting.

    I think Mum is confused by undressing etc but again she is not yet ready to be undressed and dressed on a regular basis. I'll have to see how she gets on.

    thanks, Chris
  15. Margarita

    Margarita Registered User

    Feb 17, 2006
    #15 Margarita, Mar 15, 2009
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2009
    Yes as it must be Very embarrassing for us and for them to be wash in bath by us or even a carer as it hard perceiving their dignity/ feelings while trying to find a balance to keep then hygienically clean.

    My mother ended up with a fugal under her breast, which let out an awful smell
    I found that stage very difficult to handle.

    It was only when mum got really smelly and my children just coming out with it to my mother , that I ask my mother what was she doing wrong that she found it hard in washing herself . So she had a strip wash . top part first, my mother showing me how she washes under her breast. While mum telling me “see I am doing it right “then the bottom half “see I am doing it right “.
    I found that mum simple forgot that she never wash herself & a bit of prompting from me, help her keep those skills longer in helping herself.
    She was scared to get into bath, so wash down was much better

    took my mother a long time to admit defeat to let carer wash her .


    If you can just prompt you mother in getting dress rather then doing it all for her .

    She may Just be simply forgetting, so a prompt from you will help even if you get a negative reaction form your mother
  16. sarah c

    sarah c Registered User

    Jan 15, 2009

    I have the same problem with my father, and it is making me feel guilty!!

    I cannot recall or swear to dad having a bath since October last year. He now smells very bad, and also smells of stale urine.

    I have asked him about bathing, without saying outright 'you smell' but he always swears he had a bath..'yesterday'.

    I watched a stain in the bath at his house when he was saying this, and I got to 2.5 weeks without it being washed off. (then we got a cleaner and she is too efficient for me to check now)

    I feel guilty as I now visit less because it is so unpleasant. I certainly never eat at his house as I dont trust the hygene levels generally, and I have to remember never to breath through my nose whilst I am there...

    The carer that goes in mentionned the smell of urine in her daily report. When we read this my sister got upset and said it wasnt fair noting it officially...?!

    Strange thing is Dad is always doing some washing, but jumpers etc, I never see pants on the line!!
  17. Amber 5

    Amber 5 Registered User

    Jan 20, 2009
    Sounds like my mum! Last time I was there I arrived at around 1pm and had taken a box of her favourite cereal in as I knew she was out of it. So she had a bowl of cereal, but made me a tongue sandwich (she hasn't done anything like that in ages, so was a bit taken aback). I couldn't resist finding the tongue wrapping from the bin and saw the use by date was 10 days ago. Aaaagh - what's worse I couldn't bring myself to not eat it. Somehow I'm still here to tell the tale, but it feels so unhygienic in there.
    Try not to feel guilty, just do what you can and hold your breathe when necessary! One of these days I'm sure we'll succeed in getting them in the bath.
    Gill x
  18. Happyone

    Happyone Registered User

    Apr 2, 2008
    Reading through all these comments really make you realise you are not alone! My MIL always says she has showered, yet when I check the bathroom, there is still dust in the shower tray!!! Someone from the Alzhemiers Society told me that my MIL probably thinks she has showered, "because she always had showered so why wouldnt she have showered that day?" This sort of made sense to me, but doesnt help with the hygiene issue.
    I think my MIL is actually frightened of the shower, and she is always worried about being in the bathroom for too long "in case the light goes out and it gets dark in there" (there is no window in their bathroom).
    Its a very difficult issue, and seems to be getting worse. She now only washes her hair when she visits the hairdresser and getting her to go there even once a fortnight is a big problem.
    It seems so many things are common in the Alzheimers journey.

  19. Margarita

    Margarita Registered User

    Feb 17, 2006
    #19 Margarita, Mar 19, 2009
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2009
    It does .

    It May sound silly, but the saddest part of it all is for me is when I found out it was a symptom of dementia. I read up on it, I brought loads of books that have loads of tips how to work around it. All the books come under Alzheimer's except for on I found called " the Simplicity of Dementia " .

    That what I mean when I say it gets worse .

    very slowly gradely, mum would not work out or take it mentally how to go sit herself in the hairdresser chair to wash her hair.

    So lucky for me I had a few friends who where hairdressers, so I ask one of them if they would kindly come to my house to cut mum hair. I would spray wet my mother hair they would cut it perm it .

    Then mum could not take perming hair anymore, or even getting into walk in shower , bath lift . Mum can take wash strap down, every day . In respite as there is trained staff in dementia she can enjoy a shower .

    Also I never sent my mother to a respite care home that was not for someone with a dementia, it has to be dementia registered, have staff that are trained in dementia. So my mother can enjoy her time in respite care home .
  20. Splat88

    Splat88 Registered User

    Jul 13, 2005
    Holding your breatyh is all very well, but if you live in the same house its impossible!!!

    Mary has had one shower, (and one bath that didn't take place) in the six years she has lived with us.

    I've tried every combination of things I can think of to get her to wash, all to no avail. I usually get told she's an adult ( which she is!!) and she doesn't have to be told to dress, what to wear etc etc, or when to wash.

    I've tried telling her she smells,the kids have told her they don't like to sit next to her at dinner cos she smells etc etc.

    We've got my eldest sons wedding in less than a month, and I'm at a loss what to do. She needs some clothes that fit ( everything has got too tight lately, but if we buy new clothes they get carefully put to one side because they aren't hers!!!)She needs a haircut, but how can I expect a hairdresser to come that close?

    I take her clothes for washing, and usually I'm able to at least keep reminding her to change her knickers etc ( which incidentally I have to hunt for, as she tends to hide them because they are soiled, but NO don't dare suggest she has continence problems!!!!!)

    I know she has fungal problems because she's recently had an ecg, where the smell from the navel was enought to make me retch. But, when I try to put the cream on she was prescribed, I'm told to get lost, becuase how can I possibly know that her belly button is sore!!!! She says it isn't, so it isn't, in spite of the discharge I have to wash off her vest.

    One thing I have learned, you cannot make someone who doesn't want to wash do so, I just can't face the same arguments every day, month, year!

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