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Three Common Questions About Bathing the Elderly

Three Common Questions About Bathing the Elderly

As we age, everyday tasks become more and more challenging. And, considering that the bathroom is one of the most dangerous rooms in the home – regardless of age – it’s important to be especially careful around the shower or tub. For many caregivers and children, bathing a parent or loved one is completely new territory. Here are answers to some of the most common questions our clients have about bathing the elderly properly and safely.

Tips for bathing the elderly, grab bars in bathroom

1. What should I do if my parent refuses to bathe or change into clean clothes?

This is a common question because, believe it or not, many seniors refuse to take showers or change into clean clothes.

Why does this happen?

A common cause is depression and a lack of energy. They suddenly don’t have any interest in being clean or putting on fresh clothes. Feelings of depression often go hand in hand with seniors who feel a lack of control. One thing that they can control, however, is their clothing. The more their caregivers and loved ones tell them to wash up; the more likely they are to resist doing what they are told.

Seniors also often have a decreased sense of smell, which means that they may not even notice their own body odor. They may also feel scared of bathing or showering, because they don’t want to slip or experience discomfort and joint pain while getting in and out of the tub. Finally, memory loss can impact a senior’s ability to remember when they last bathed. It’s easy for the elderly to lose track of time, and even what day it is. A week might pass, but to them, it could feel like just a day has gone by.

So, how can you convince your loved one to bathe if they are showing resistance?

If the issue is related to depression, medication may help them feel uplifted and more interested in taking care of themselves. Antidepressants may also give them more energy. Talk to their doctor about whether your loved one may be suffering from depression. If they aren’t depressed, but are retaliating because they don’t want to feel controlled, then you should try giving them a reason to bathe. Make them a nice meal or organize a nice lunch or outing with their friends. Something new and exciting usually gives seniors incentive to get cleaned up and put on nice fresh clothes.

If your loved one does allow you to bathe them, start out small. Begin by wiping their face, and then move to an arm. Remember to be gentle and loving, and continuously communicate what you’re doing. If they tell you to stop, simply stop and try again later. Just do what you can.

Although you are only trying to help your loved one because you care about them, it may be time to lower your standards. If you can squeeze in the occasional sponge bath – that might be enough for them. It’s important that you don’t fight your parent over cleanliness. Even though you’re coming from a kind and loving place, your loved one is likely to feel belittled and controlled. Try to be patient and understanding – it’s not easy for them either!

2. How can I make the shower or tub a safe space for mom and dad?

Here is a list of ways that you can make the bathroom and, in particular, the shower or tub, for seniors:

  • Invest in a hand held shower head. This will let your loved one feel more in control and safer.
  • Next, install a shower chair or bench. Many seniors feel more comfortable sitting down rather than standing, and it’s easier to sit on a bench than to lower all the way down into the tub for a bath.
  • You also need to make sure that grab bars are properly positioned around the shower. They shouldn’t be too high, or too low. If your loved one needs to reach for a bar, they may lose balance and are at risk of falling.
  • Invest in a small heater – especially if your loved one is having a sponge bath – so that they don’t feel cold and wet. They should feel warm at all times while bathing.
  • Place rubber mats on the bottom of the tub, and make sure that your loved one has something secure and dry to step on when they get out of the bath – like a rug.
  • Keep the area around the tub dry at all times.
  • Put a liquid soap dispenser in the shower for easy access, and try to use gentle soaps and shampoos. Certain chemicals can cause skin irritation and dryness.

3. What do I do if my loved one is bedridden?

If your loved one is recovering from an injury or is having difficulty getting out of bed, then you shouldn’t try to move them to the shower. Instead, bring two bowls to their bedside. One is for clean water, and one is for rinsing. You will also need lots of bath towels and washcloths available, so that their bedding doesn’t get wet. Before you begin, decide where you want to start the bed bath, and move slowly from there. Privacy is important to many seniors. Try to only uncover areas that you’re cleaning.

Helpful tips for bathing the elderly:

Once you have secured the shower area, it’s important to make sure you are assisting your loved one in a helpful and loving way. Try to avoid being controlling. If your parent can wash their arms and stomach, but need help with their back, then simply wash their back and offer them a hand when entering and exiting the bathtub.

Small acts of kindness can go a long way and help build trust. For example, test the water temperature with your elbow to make sure that it isn’t too hot or cold. Ask them if they think the temperature is right. Cover their eyes with a cloth or bath visor while washing their hair so that they don’t get hot water and soap in their eyes. Offer your loved one a plastic apron to cover up if they don’t feel comfortable being completely nude. And, lastly, be patient. Even if they don’t always express their appreciation, remember that helping your loved one feel clean is a great act of kindness.

Do you have other questions about bathing the elderly? Call our help line at 434-455-6500 in Lynchburg or 540-776-3622 in Roanoke, Virginia.

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