Caregivers providing senior care often have problems helping older adults with bathing, yet it is one of the most important, and prevalent, aspects of caring for the aging in place population. Taking a bath is one of the most personal things that any of us can do and our elders may feel like their pride is taking a backseat to their health when they need bathing assistance. When elderly patients resist bathing assistance they can often experience dangerous slips and falls in the tub, resulting in fractured and broken bones or worse. And if they refuse assistance altogether, and do not shower or bathe, the health implications can be significant.
There are a variety of reasons that the elderly may resist receiving bathing assistance. For example, they may be ashamed for someone to see them naked or their eyesight may impair their ability to judge the depth of the water and they may fear drowning.
Here are five tips that caregivers can use when trying to help bathe an older patient:
1. Offer the patient as much privacy as possible and ensure that there is adequate lighting and a safe environment for the bath. Shower benches, grab bars, non-skid surfaces, and hand-held shower heads that elders can use themselves may help elderly patients feel empowered during the process. Allow them to do some of the work, if they are physically able, so that they can maintain some independence.
2. Determine the best time of day for the patient to receive bathing assistance. Sometimes navigating around the patient’s preferences and establishing a mutually agreed upon timeframe for baths can make the patient feel better about receiving assistance because they’re being included in the decision-making process.
3. Establish a separate time for washing the patient’s hair so that the patient does not become overwhelmed. If the bathing session takes too long the patient may not want to continue receiving assistance because of the amount of energy and focus it takes on their part. Having a separate, dedicated, time for hair-washing can help to alleviate that problem and also create an activity that the patient might actually enjoy.
4. Negotiate the frequency for full baths or showers with the patient. Typically, three times a week for a full bath or shower is sufficient, with sponge-bathing in the interim. Setting the number of full baths a week upfront can help elderly patients feel more comfortable with receiving assistance because they can mentally prepare themselves. And it also allows them to have some control over their own home health care.
5. Ask the patient, before beginning the bathing process, about their specific concerns in order to remedy the problems beforehand. For example, if the patient fears falling, additional grip bars can be installed or if they fear drowning because of poor eyesight, a mat made of a bright color can be put on the bottom of the tub to help the patient gauge the water level. It is always better to find out the patient’s concerns before starting the bath rather than midway through.
Caregivers have to be flexible enough to deal with the patient’s unique concerns. Providing bathing assistance during senior care can be daunting but the challenges can be overcome with some strategic planning. By respecting the patient’s need for independence and appreciating their specific concerns, caregivers can work through the problems associated with bathing assistance for the elderly and help the aging in place to maintain a proper level of hygiene.