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Bathing tips

If your older loved needs assistance with bathing, it can be an uncomfortable experience for both of you, but is it necessary for health and well-being. Be open with your loved one about their bathing needs. If necessary, enlist your loved one's doctor in stressing that they need help in this area. Ask your loved one their preferences regarding who they would like to have help them with this task. If the task falls to you, here are some tips to make the experience go smoothly. If you develop and stick to a routine, it should become less uncomfortable for both of you over time.

  1. A daily full bath may not be in your loved one's best interest. Skin tends to become more dry and sensitive as we age, so a head-to-toe scrubbing everyday could do more harm than good. Instead, private areas and skin folds should be gently cleaned on a daily basis with a warm washcloth. Save the full baths for two or three times a week.

  2. Make sure the bathtub or shower is properly equipped to accommodate your loved one's level of balance and agility. Remove any items from the bathroom floor that could be a tripping hazard (including area rugs). Install grab bars in the tub or shower, and get a shower seat if needed to help your loved one avoid falls. An inexpensive hose for the tub can make rinsing easier. If they are unable to step into a bathtub, install a transfer bench or consider sponge baths. Make sure the room is warm and test the temperature of the water before your loved one enters the bath.

  3. Regardless of the method of bathing, prepare in advance any items that will be needed—washcloths, towels, soap and shampoo. If your loved one has favorite products that they've always used, keep using those unless they become too harsh for sensitive skin. If you switch to a baby shampoo or sensitive skin formula soap, explain to your loved one the reason why.

  4. Allow your loved one some level of privacy when cleaning private areas. They can keep a towel on their lap throughout the bath which is only lifted as needed.

  5. If your loved one is able to handle a washcloth, let them clean themselves as much as possible, even if it's just to wipe down their arms. That simple action can help them retain a sense of independence and can help keep their mind off the more thorough washing you're giving them. Other distractions that may help include light conversation or playing their favorite music while they bathe.

  6. If you are giving your loved one sponge baths in their bed, there are no-rinse soaps and shampoos available that make this task a little easier. Be aware, they will still need to rinse off occasionally to remove residue.

  7. Home care agencies can provide assistance with bathing. You may find the best option for you and your loved one is to handle the day-to-day washing yourselves and have a home care aide come in a couple times a week to take care of the more thorough bathing.

    A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.