There may come a time when an older adult needs assistance with their personal care. This often falls to family members to be their caregiver. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and National Institute of Health (NIH) offer these tips to help individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, however many of these tips also apply to other adults needing assistance with their personal care as well.
Planning ahead makes bath time better for the person and you, the one assisting them.
- Get the soap, washcloth, towels, and shampoo ready. Make sure the bathroom is warm and well lit. Playing soft music may help relax the person.
- Be matter-of-fact when it is time for bathing. Don’t ask if they want to take a shower or bath. Say, “It’s time for a bath now.” Don’t argue about the need for a bath or shower. Be gentle and respectful. Tell the person what you are going to do, step by step.
- Make sure that the water temperature is not too hot or cold for the older adult before helping them into the tub or shower.
Follow the individual’s lifelong bathing routine, understanding that the older adult might not have grown up taking showers and feel more comfortable with a tub bath or sponge bath. During bath time, allow the older adult to do as much for themselves as possible. This protects their dignity and helps them feel more in control.
- Never leave a confused or frail person alone in the tub or shower.
- Use a shower bench, a rubber bath mat and safety grab bars to help keep the individual safe in the bath or shower.
- Use a hand-held shower head to make bathing easier.
- Don’t use bath oil. It can make the tub slippery and may cause urinary tract infections.
- If the person has trouble getting in and out of the bathtub, offer a sponge bath instead.
During a Bath or Shower
Understand that an older adult may become upset during a bath. Continue talking to them calmly and explaining what is going on. Sometimes the person benefits from being distracted by talking and engaging them in conversation about other things.
- Put a towel over the person’s shoulders or lap. This helps them feel less exposed. Then use a sponge or washcloth to clean under the towel.
- Give the person a washcloth to hold. This may help them feel less agitated.
- Prevent rashes or infections by patting the person’s skin with a towel. Make sure the person is completely dry, being sure to dry between folds of skin.
- If the person is incontinent, apply protective ointment to sensitive areas.
Other Bathing Tips
Most people benefit from a bath or shower two or three times a week. Between full baths, a daily sponge bath to clean the face, hands, feet, underarms, and genitals helps to keep the individual clean. Sometimes it is better to accept that a sponge bath is better than no bath at all.
- Washing the person’s hair in the sink with a hose attachment may be easier than doing it in the shower or bathtub.
- Get bathing help from a professional or personal care agency when it becomes too hard for you to help the older adult to bathe on your own.
Sometimes people need more time to dress than we do. Allow the person to dress on his or her own for as long as possible.
- Lay out clothes in the order that the person should put them on, such as underwear first, then socks, then pants, then a shirt, then a sweater and shoes or slippers.
- Hand the person one thing at a time, or give step-by-step dressing instructions. Assist with buttons or fasteners if needed. Be calm and patient so that the older adult does not become agitated.
- Think about buying loose-fitting, comfortable clothing, with elastic waistbands. Also consider Velcro® tape or large zipper pulls to ease dressing instead of shoelaces, buttons, or buckles. Assess if slip-on shoes or shoes with Velcro® straps would be helpful.
- Avoid girdles, control-top pantyhose, knee-high nylons, high heels, and tight socks.
When people feel good about how they look, they often feel better. Helping the individual brush their teeth, shave, put on makeup, and get dressed can help them feel more like themselves.
Even as we get older, oral health is still very important. Sometimes using the person’s hand over top of your hand helps the older adult participate, but still allows you to make sure the dental hygiene gets their mouth clean.
- Have the toothpaste and toothbrush ready to use. Seeing the toothpaste being put on the brush may trigger memories of past times brushing teeth. If the person doesn’t like the taste of the toothpaste, consider using child’s toothpaste.
- Show the person how to brush his or her teeth. Calmly explain the steps. Remember to let the person do as much as possible. Brushing your teeth at the same time may provide an example.
- Help the person clean his or her dentures, and ask them to rinse his or her mouth with water after each meal and use mouthwash daily.
- Try a long-handled, angled, or electric toothbrush if it will make brushing the person’s teeth easier on them.
- Encourage a woman to wear makeup if she has always used it. If needed, help her put on powder and lipstick, but avoid the use of eye makeup.
- Encourage a man to shave, and help him as needed. An electric razor might be safest.
- Take the person for regular visits to the barber or beauty shop. Some barbers or hairstylists may come to your home.
- Keep the person’s nails and toenails clean and trimmed. Make regular appointments with a podiatrist for feet checks and toenail trims.
How Care is There can help
- Help provide support to the family caregiver
- Help hire a professional caregiver or agency when needed
- Advocate for the family caregiver and your loved one at medical appointments
- Assist with taking your loved one to medical and hair appointments
Contact Care is There today for a free consultation!
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Shenandoah Valley: 540.246.0211
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