Asked by Gboughmer, Alden, Michigan
My 68-year-old mother-in-law refuses to take a bath but once a week. Is this healthy or even legally acceptable? Please help.
Living Well Expert
Dr. Jennifer Shu
Children's Medical Group
Thanks for your question. Infrequent bathing can be socially, although not legally, unacceptable in our society, and poor hygiene has been associated with skin and soft tissue infections. Bathing is important for removing germs from one's skin as well as washing away odors from sweat and dirt. However, if your mother-in-law is otherwise clean (washes her hands regularly, spot-cleans parts of her body that are dirty on a daily basis, and wears clean clothes for example) and is fully responsible for herself in other ways, this issue may not be a problem for her.
Older people with decreased senses of smell or vision may not notice odors or dirt as much as before and may not feel the need to bathe more regularly. Also, if they are not very physically active or don't go outdoors much, they may not want to bathe for several days until they feel very sweaty or dirty.
There are many other reasons that seniors and the elderly may choose not to bathe. I often hear complaints that bathing too often dries out a person's skin. Furthermore, physical limitations and pain from ailments such as arthritis may discourage them from wanting to bathe. Assistive devices such as handrails, shower benches, and long-handled scrubbers may help in this situation. Older individuals may also become confused or fearful of water or the bathtub or shower stall itself. Memory loss can be a factor, and they may not realize how long it has been since their last bath. Finally, being depressed can make people stop caring about their hygiene and other aspects of their lives.
In summary, you may want to try to figure out the reason for your mother-in-law's bath refusal and then address the underlying cause to encourage her to bathe more often. But if everything seems fine, having a regular once-a-week bath schedule may actually be enough.
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