With elderly parents, in terms of safety, the bathroom is the room of most concern due to all the obvious risks. And if you then start to think about the embarrassment, and nervousness, around privacy and bathing, bathrooms and bathing become very complicated for an elderly person.
You can make bathing easier for the elderly by –
- asking what is needed
- better bathroom safety
- bright lighting
- adapted products and accessories
- a bathing schedule
- reorganizing the bathroom
- heating the bathroom
- assisting with bathing
- helping with dressing
Making bathing easier for an elderly parent may be any or all of the following –
- adding some safety equipment, such as grab bars and seating
- being present to help set things out, and for reassurance
- or actually helping a loved one to bathe
I have had to help my elderly mom wash, after a hip replacement operation, and my father wash every day 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, while helping your parent to feel in control, and comfortable, with what is happening.
It is perfectly normal, as no one is comfortable helping their parent to bathe, at first.
And your parent is most certainly going to have reservations concerning his, or her, privacy, and loss of independence.
Contents Overview & Quicklinks
Bathroom Safety for the elderly
I am going to suggest some very rudimentary bathroom safety tips and products to make sure that you have at least got the minimum set up to help with problems which may arise from balance and stability in the bathroom.
If the issues that your parent or loved one are dealing with are really only safety related, and they do not require you to be present, or actually lend a hand, then my bathroom safety article may be more what you need.
The safety article has 54 safety points for the bathroom, along with lots of tips on different devices and equipment, to make the bathroom safe, and you can find that here.
This article is more focused on how to help, in the most constructive and supportive way, interfering to a minimum, and supporting your parent to a maximum.
General bathroom safety
Tip # 1
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 Vayyar 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 # 2
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 # 3
Ceiling to floor poles
If you don’t like bars on the side of the tub, you can get ceiling to floor poles, with height adjustable handles.
Tip # 4
Grab bars are a wonderful piece of equipment for the bathroom, which will give your parents, or loved ones, extra stability whilst they are standing, sitting down or getting up, and also something to grab onto if they do slip.
Grab bars are well advised by the toilet, for sitting and standing, by the sink, at the entrance to the bathroom, and then you can get more specific models for both the shower and the bath tub.
Tip # 5
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.
Bathtub safety for the elderly
Tip # 6
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 safer than the shower (if you are not using a shower seat or bench) as you may only stand to get in, or get out.
You can also use a transfer seat to slide over the water of the tub and then wash sitting down
You do not need to step in or out of the tub itself, it is done by sliding a seat in and out.
Tip # 7
Sliding transfer seats
Another option for an ordinary bathtub, is a sliding transfer seat – a seat with legs in the tub and out of the tub, the seat slides across, so your parent can sit down outside the tub and then slide over on the seat into the tub – some seats also swivel which helps if space is tight.
Tip # 8
A 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 # 9
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 specialty grab bars for the bathtub that clamp to the side.
Tip # 10
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 and slowly swivel around to the outside of the bathtub.
Tip # 11
Some sort of basket, or bath tub caddy, in which to keep everything in one place, and within reach, is a great idea.
This is to avoid over-reaching and slipping, and making everything as simple as it can be.
Tip # 12
It is a good idea on-slip mats inside and outside the bath tub to reduce the chance of slipping, especially if the person is stepping into, and out of the tub.
Shower safety for the elderly
Tip # 13
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 # 14
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 # 15
Shower grab bars
As with the bath tub, you really should be putting grab bars in the shower. For Mom, I got the type with the etched surface so that your hand doesn’t slip down the bar.
If you find that your grab bar is slippery when it gets wet, you can put some non-slip tape on it, which make it easier to grip.
Tip # 16
3-in-1 portable commode
If you have a 3-in-1 portable commode, this works just as well as a shower seat.
Tip # 17
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 # 18
To stop your parent reaching and bending too much in the shower, a shower caddy which holds all the required kit for washing in one place is a great idea.
Tip # 19
It is a good idea on-slip mats inside and outside the bath tub to reduce the chance of slipping, especially if the person is stepping into, and out of the tub.
Bathing aids for the elderly
Tip # 20
Long Handled sponge
A long handled sponge can be very helpful for washing feet and the back, and will avoid over-reaching and twisting, which frequently lead to falls.
Tip # 21
Soap bars can get mighty slippery, and fly off all over the place, and we don’t want our elderly loved ones trying to bend down to find the soap, and for that reason a liquid gel soap in a container is a good solution, or if your parent really wants their soap bar, the following solution.
Tip # 22
Soap on a rope
If your parent really doesn’t like gel soap, and wants a bar of soap, then use soap on a rope and maybe make the rope a little longer if they are seated while washing, and keep it within very easy reach.
Tip # 23
Hand held shower head
This is vital if the person bathing is showering or sitting on a bench in the shower or bathtub.
For a person who is showering while standing, it limits a lot of the twisting and moving around that you have with a fixed shower head, and so reduces the chance of slipping.
For a person who is seated and bathing or showering it does the same, and means that they don’t have to adjust their body position to get wet, they just move the shower head around with their hand.
If you are bathing, or showering, your parent, a hand-held shower head is going to be a must, and will make your job a lot easier and also faster as you will be able to rinse your parent off, without before they get cold.
Preparing your loved one to bathe
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 need to find out if they have been getting worried about bathing because of physical frailty, or lack of mobility, and if they are scared that they may hurt themselves.
Before you do anything, it is important to find out what your loved one can, and can’t do, and in turn, what they will need you to help them with.
If you ask your loved one what it is that they feel they require you to do, you will be supporting them in what they can do, and you will find this is usually the best path to go down.
Maybe they just need a few devices to help them 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 daily because of the risk of UTI’s.
Tip # 24
Ask your loved one what they want and need you to do
Remember, go slowly, and be sure to let your parent feel as though they are being supported, and not being pushed into doing things.
Tip # 25
Setting up a schedule for the bathing
Whether you are going to be simply helping set up and then sitting in another room, or if 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 leave your loved ones sitting in soiled incontinence underwear.
Setting out the bathroom for the bath, or shower
Tip # 26
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 toasty so that your parent doesn’t catch cold.
Tip # 27
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 are easily reached from where your parent is bathing.
Tip # 28
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.
Have a towel bathrobe ready to put on straight out of the shower, or bath, and some sturdy shoes and go through to the bedroom (the towel robe will keep them warm and start to dry them).
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 there.
So don’t forget to heat up the bedroom, place a towel on the bed and have all the clothes standing by.
You don’t want your parent catching a cold.
Bathing assistance for the elderly ?
After you have heated both the bathroom and bedroom, so that they are nice and toasty, you can help you are ready to help with bathing.
Tip # 29
Allow your parents or loved one as much privacy as possible
Give your parents as much space and privacy as they need.
Even if you are washing them, you can let them cover certain areas and wash them themselves, without you actually looking on – you can leave the room for a moment and come back when they call you.
In time, a lot of the barriers like this will fall as it all becomes so much more routine for you both.
Tip # 30
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 maintaining their independence.
Tip # 31
Don’t rush things
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 # 32
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 # 33
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 too quickly, your parents may miss bits of what you have said and get confused, which will not make them enjoy the experience.
Tip # 34
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 # 35
Respect your loved one’s privacy as much as is possible
Let your parent wash their private parts themselves.
And if your parent is able to sit and wash themselves without assistance, you may be able to simply set everything up for them, help them to get seated
Tip # 36
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 # 37
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 # 38
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 too fast.
Tip # 39
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 # 40
A towel bathrobe
A superb 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.
Bathing solutions for the elderly
To help your parent, or elderly love one, to bathe you need to –
Step 1/ – find out why the person maybe isn’t washing as much as they should.
Step 2/ – if there are safety issues, you need to sort these out, by making any modifications to the bathroom that they require, and buying any safety equipment that makes if easier for your parents to wash.
Step 3/ – if the person, 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 Vayyar 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.
Step 4/ – purchase any bathing aids to make washing easier.
Step 5/ – should the person 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. Ask what they need from you – you need to place the emphasis on supporting the person, and reinforcing their independence as much as you can.
Step 6/ – try and get your parent onto a fixed bathing schedule.
Step 7/ – before helping your parent to bathe, organize the bathroom and have it all laid out, so that you can do it all slowly and in a relaxed manner. Let the person know what you are about to do, before you do it, all the way through the process.
Remember to have the bathroom and bedroom pre-heated to avoid your parent from getting cold.
Of course, you are not always going to be able to get a tired elderly person to bathe, or shower, and a sponge bath is fine if a person just doesn’t have the strength.
You have to be flexible, and sometimes it won’t be possible.
An elderly adult really only needs to bathe once or twice a week.
Dementia and bathing
If your parent, or loved one, is suffering from dementia, you will want to keep things very regular, and be very clear.
With Dad, I had to keep him warm, and just explain each step to him ahead of time, and he was fully compliant, and didn’t find it difficult – at least he didn’t complain or manifest any signs of discomfort or confusion.
Try to stick to the routine for bathing, or showering, that the individual suffering with dementia has always had before they became ill i.e. morning or evening, bath or shower
Prepare the bathroom
As before, you will want to have the bathroom prepared –
- heated to a nice temperature
- the water at a temperature that the bather likes – let the person who you are bathing check it before you start
- all the tools for bathing within reach, especially if the person is still able to do some washing themselves – you don’t want people standing and over-reaching on wet surfaces to reach items they want, especially if they may have mobility issues
- everything that you need in the bathroom should be there ahead of time, especially if you can’t leave the person alone in the bathroom because they require supervision
Prepare everything logically
To simplify the bath, or shower, the drying and dressing, if you have the space, you can set out all the items in the order that they are going to be needed.
Create a relaxed atmosphere
If your loved one gets frustrated easily, or anxious about bathing, you may want to play some of their favorite calming music to relax them – this is also nice for anyone if you are bathing a parent, and it’s a little uncomfortable.
Talk quietly and describe each step before you take it
Talk quietly to the person you are helping, and let them know what each step coming up is going to be. This will help with any confusion, and if they are tense and afraid, use a quiet calming voice to relax them.
Have the bather hold onto wash cloths
If your parent, or loved one has a tendency to violent outbursts, one idea is to give them a wash cloth in each hand, as they will have to drop it before they try to strike out, and this will often give you time to move away.
With my father, I always found, as he moved very slowly, that it was best if I wrapped him in a towel bathrobe, and then walked him to the heated bedroom where I could help him get dry. As well as keeping him warm, the towel bathrobe also made drying him afterwards a lot easier.
Alzheimer’s products for bathing
The products below are more specifically for dementia sufferers who have a fear of water.
Rinse free Shampoo
A shampoo, which doesn’t require rinsing afterwards, making it ideal for those with a fear of water.
Rinse free bath concentrate
A body wash which again doesn’t need water, and which can be wiped clean with a damp cloth, or towel.
Shampoo in a cap
This cap contains “no-rinse” shampoo and conditioner.
Simply put on the cap, and lightly massage the hair for 15 – 20 seconds, until the hair is fully saturated.
Take off the cap and, you can towel dry the hair, with no need for water.
Waterless bathing gloves
These gloves are intended for waterless bathing, which can be very helpful for caregivers and elderly adults suffering with dementia who are afraid of water.
The gloves are for a single use only, require no water, no rinsing or towel drying.
The gloves are pre-moistened using hypoallergenic washing lotion, which is perfectly safe for elderly adults.
An example of these gloves are “Aqua Wash Gloves”.
Shower visors will keep water off the face of the wearer, and again for dementia sufferers who afraid of water, it can make the bathing experience go more smoothly.
I’m Gareth, the author and owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.