36 caregiver tips: How to make bathing easier for the elderly ?

by | Beginners Info, Personal Hygiene, Safety

With elderly parents, the bathroom is the area of most concern because of the obvious risks, and if you then start thinking of the embarrassment and nervousness around the issues of privacy and bathing, you are taking it all to a whole other level of awkwardness. 

How to make bathing easier for the elderly ? I am going to share with you the tips which I have found to make the job much easier, less embarrassing and safer. This not just about bathing your parent, they may need a little help setting up, and someone present in another room while they bathe.

I have had to help my elderly mom wash, after a hip replacement operation, and my father wash everyday for a long time while he was dying from motor neuron disease, and we worked our way through it. And so can you without falling apart, and also helping your parent to still feel in control and comfortable with what is happening.

It is perfectly normal, as no one is comfortable helping their parent bathe at first, and your parent is most certainly going to have reservations, as well, concerning their privacy and loss of independence.

What am I actually helping my parent to do ?

If you are helping your elderly parent to make bathing easier, or feel you need to help your parent with bathing, there is obviously something which has made you think that they may need some assistance with washing themselves. You are going to want to find out if they have been getting worried about bathing because of physical frailty, or lack of mobility, and are scared that they may hurt themselves.

Before you do anything it is important to find out from your loved one exactly what it is that they can, and can’t do, and in turn what they will need you to help them with. If you ask them what it is that they feel they need you to do, you will be supporting them in what they can do, and you will find this is the best path to go down.

Maybe they just need a few devices to help them to get into the tub or the shower safely, and also to be able to bathe properly and comfortably without being afraid ?

You may also find that if they are a little worried about accidents that they would just appreciate it if you could be on hand in another room should things take a bad turn.

And by the way, the elderly don’t need a complete wash all over more than once, or twice, a week if it is all too much for them. Seniors, and women in particular, just have to wash their private parts regularly because of the risk of UTI’s.

So…Step 1 – How to get the conversation going 

Tip # 1

Ask your loved one what they want and need you to do

Remember go slowly, and be sure to let your parent feel as thought they are being supported, and not being pushed into doing things.

Tip # 2

Setting up a schedule for the bathing

Whether you are going to be simply helping set up and then sitting in another room, or you are actually helping your parent bathe themselves, it will really help if you set up a schedule. As people get older they respond much more positively if activities follow a set routine, and it is also easier to get them to stick to something if they have agreed to a regular time.

There’s no need to go crazy with the schedule, it is perfectly adequate for an elderly person to bathe as little as once a week or twice a week. Ladies just need to make sure that their private parts are cleaned daily as they are more susceptible to Urinary Tract Infections.

As we get older our skin also gets thinner and more fragile, so excessive washing can damage the skin and its oils, so it’s important not to over do it.

If there is a lot of wetting or incontinence, then you will need to clean and wash that every time, and not let your loved ones sitting in their incontinence underwear.

Step 2 – if my elderly parents are feeling unsafe in the bathroom what should I do ?

I have a very detailed article of 54 safety points for the bathroom with lots tips on different devices and equipment to make the bathroom safe, and you can find that here.

I am going to suggest a few things, but I would check out my bathroom safety article if you really want just the safety side of things. This article is also about how to help, in the most constructive and supportive way, interfering to a minimum, and supporting your parent a maximum.

Here’s a basic safety list –

    Tip # 3

    Automatic Fall Detection or Medical Alert

    For elderly parents who want to bathe alone and who don’t want you there, there is always the option of a waterproof fall detector, or the latest system in bathroom fall detection Walabot Home, which can immediately detect when a person has fallen, and without your parent doing a thing, it will call you – the system is also voice activated which means that if they fall they can just say for the device to call, and your parent can speak through the device with you.

    Tip # 4

    Bright bathroom lighting

    Make sure that you have good bright lighting in the bathroom so your parents can clearly see what they are doing, and where they are stepping.

    Tip # 5

    The bathtub is safer than the shower

    If you are worried about the risk of falls even if you are present in the bathroom, the bathtub is far safe than the shower as you may only stand to get in or get out.

    Tip # 6

    Walk in bathtub

    If you are able to afford it, it may be worth having a look at walk in bathtubs as they are the safest way to bathe, as you don’t have to step up, you can sit down to bathe if you want and a lot of the tubs also have showers in them as well – American Standard, Venzi, Ella and Meditub are all well known brands – with a tub like this your loved one may just need a hand with drying afterwards.

    Tip # 7

    Bathtub clamp on Grab bars

    You will also want to put in different types of rails and grab bars for your parent to hold on to if the tub has to be stepped into – there are specifically for a bathtub, and clamp to the side.

    Tip # 8

    Ceiling to floor poles

    If you don’t like bars on the side of the tub, you can get ceiling to floor poles, with which you can set the handles that you are hanging on to for stability to the height that you want.

    Tip # 9

    Sliding transfer seats

    Another option for an ordinary bathtub is a sliding transfer seat which is a seat with legs in the tub and out of the tub, with a seat which slides across, so your parent can sit down outside of the tub and then slide over on the seat into the tub – some seats also swivel which helps if space is tight.

    Tip # 10

    Bathtub lift

    For those who want to get lower into the bathtub than with a sliding transfer seat, there is a bathtub lift which lowers the user into and out of the water, and swivels when it is at the height of the tub side allowing the user to have their legs lifted up and slowly swivel around to the outside of the bathtub.

    Tip # 11

    Wall mounted shower seats

    You have wall mounted seats which you can fix into your parent’s shower so that they can sit down when showering which will greatly reduce the risks of slips and falling- the advantage of these is that they fold up when not in use.

    Tip # 12

    Shower chair or shower bench

    If you don’t need to have something that folds up, then you can just get a shower chair or shower bench for your loved one to sit on.

    Tip # 13

    3-in-1 portable commode

    If you have a 3-in-1 portable commode, this works just as well as a shower seat.

    Tip # 14

    Hand held shower head

    For the shower itself, get a hand held shower head which is much easier for someone with less mobility to use.

    Tip # 15

    Shower caddy

    So that your parent isn’t reaching and bending too much in the shower, a shower caddy which hold all the required kit for washing in one place and make it easy and accessible.

    Tip # 16

    Non-slip treads and floor tape

    For both the shower and the bathtub, you want to address the issue of slipping, which you can do with non-slip mats or non-slip shower and bath treads – you can also get rolls of this for the floor.

    Tip # 17

    Grab Bars

    Grab bars are a wonderful piece of equipment for the bathroom which will give your parents stability whilst they are standing, sitting down or getting up, and also something to grab onto if they do slip.

    Step 3 – Setting out the bathroom for the bath or shower

    Tip # 18

    Heat the bathroom up

    This tip applies whether your parent is washing themselves with you present in another room, or if you are helping them to bathe – heat the bathroom up before your parent goes in – make it really toastie so that your parent doesn’t catch cold. 

    Tip # 19

    Set out all you need 

    Before your parent goes in to bathe make sure that everything they are going to need is there, and placed where it is needed in the bathroom.

    All the towels, soaps, bath salts, bathrobe, mats etc need to be where they should be and easily reachable from where your parent is bathing.

    Tip # 20

    Have the Bedroom warmed up and ready to dry off in

    I found it was much easier with both of my parents to have them dry off in the bedroom. We found it easier for them with their reduced mobility, or just stiffness, to sit on a bed, on a towel, and to dry themselves off there.

    So don’t forget to heat up the bedroom, place a towel on the bed and and have all the clothes standing by.

    You don’t want your parent catching cold.

    Step 4 – How do I actually bathe my elderly parent ?

    Tip # 21

    Allow your parents as much privacy as possible

    Give your parents as much space and privacy as they need. Even if you are washing htem you can let them cover certain areas and wash them themselves, without you actually looking on – you can leave the room for a monment and come back when they call you. In time a lot of the barriers like this will fall as it all becomes so muhc more routine for you both.

    Tip # 22

    Only do what your parent needs you to do

    This is our golden rule. Don’t keep doing things for your parent if they are able, and want to do those things. I keep saying it, but you are supporting your loved one, and reinforcing their independence.

    You don’t want to jump in and take control, as you will frustrate your parent, and also undermine the whole process of of maintaining their independence. 

    Tip # 23

    Don’t rush your parent

    Remember to not rush your parent as they may get flustered which can lead to them losing concentration and moving too quickly, which leads to accidents.

    Tip # 24

    How mobile are your parents ?

    When you first start to wash your loved one you need to check how mobile they are so you don’t have them trying to do things they can’t, as this will just lead to accidents.

    Tip # 25

    Talk to your parents slowly to  reassure them

    You need to keep reassuring your parent that they are doing a great job, so you build their confidence and they start to feel comfortable with the situation.

    If you speak to quickly your parents may miss bits of what you have said and get confused, which will not make them enjoy the experience.

    Tip # 26

    Check the water temperature

    Always check the water to make sure it’s not too cold. and not scolding hot, and more importantly have your parent check it and give the okay.

    Tip # 27

    Bathtub caddy

    Just like the shower it’s best to keep everything that you need for your parent’s bath in one place. This is to avoid reaching and slipping, and just making everything as simple as it can be.

    Tip # 28

    Liquid soap in a dispenser and a big sponge

    This simply makes washing easier. Use a mild and gentle soap such as a baby soap which will be better for your love one’s skin.

    Tip # 29

    Soap on a rope

    If your parent doesn’t want to use a liquid soap, I would suggest getting soap on a rope so your parents, or you, don’t spend too much time searching the waters for the soap.

    Tip # 30

    Goggles for shampoo

    If your parent asks you to shampoo their hair, either give them a cloth to cover their eyes, or better still get them some goggles to protect their eyes from the shampoo.

    Tip # 31

    Long hanlded brush or sponge

    A long handled brush or sponge will allow your loved one to reach some places they can’t otherwise get to because of stiffness.

    Tip # 32

    Keep all areas of the floor clear and dry

    Always keep the floor dry, but also clear – put hooks on the wall to hang stuff up if you find yourself putting them on the floor.

    Tip # 33

    Hand held shower head

    If you are bathing in the bathtub, a hand held shower head will make the rinsing so much easier, and your parent will be able to do this for themselves.

    Tip # 34

    Don’t move too quickly

    As well as going slowly and speaking softly, you need to move slowly too, as your parent probably can’t keep up with you at normal speed, and they will find it very frustrating being washed by someone going to fast.

    Tip # 35

    Have something for them to cover up with

    If your parent is uncomfortable being unclothed in front of you, you will need to have a towel or something else they can partially cover themselves with when you are washing parts they don’t mind.

    Tip # 36

    A towel bathrobe

    A really good idea is a towel bathrobe which you can put on your parent straight out of the bath or shower, that they can wear to their bedroom and keep warm in. 

    Just don’t make it a long one they can trip in.

    So to sum up

    To make bathing easier for th elderly take everything slowly, and find out

    • why your parent maybe isn’t washing as much as they should
    • ask what they need from you – you need to place the emphasis on supporting your parents, reinforcing their independence as much as you can
    • are there safety issues ? sort these out by making any modifications to the bathroom that they require, and buy any safety equipment that makes if easier for your parents to wash
    • if your parents, or you, are still worried that they may fall if they are washing themselves, but want to wash alone, you can either install something like Walabot Home, and it will immediately connect to you or a caregiver on a smartphone if your parent falls, or if they prefer you can just sit in the next room in case they have a problem
    • should your parent be unable to wash alone, and it’s decided that you are going to help them, try your upmost not to be embarrassed – believe me it’s not easy I know – as this will make it easier for them
    • try and get your parent onto a schedule
    • and do it all slowly and in a relaxed manner

    Good luck with all of this. It’s not easy at first, but you’ll both get used to it pretty quickly.

    Just take a few deep breaths and take the plunge !

    I’m Gareth and I’m the owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com

    I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.

    Gareth Williams

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    36 caregiver tips: How to make bathing easier for the elderly ?
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    36 tips for caregivers on how to make bathing easier for the elderly - bathroom set up and aids, and real world tips on how to approach helping an elderly person bathe.
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    Lookingaftermomanddad.com