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Published By Right at Home on May 22, 2009

Four Right at Home franchisees offer the following tips on making bathing more pleasant for your loved one.

Barb Madison, Owner of the Right at Home St. Louis office, suggests:

Bathing, dressing and grooming present some of the greatest challenges for caregivers because of the intimate and personal nature of these tasks. First of all it is important to understand why the person is resisting bathing. Are they not aware that they need to change clothes or bathe because of a sensory deficit? Are they unable to make a decision as to what to wear or how to get started? Is there a fear of falling? How about pain or balance issues? Is there embarrassment over needing help with these activities or having to ask for help? Is there is a diagnosis of dementia or depression?

Often identifying the trigger for the resistance to bathing can provide insight to a stress-free solution. Speaking frankly to a parent about personal hygiene is rarely pleasant but, if done with compassion it can be highly effective. Shame, blame, bribing and embarrassment never work! Once the topic has been brought out in the open, as long as a mutually agreeable solution is found, it can stay resolved. Create a schedule that the two of you can agree on and commit it to a calendar that serves as a visual reminder.
Try these top seven tips for making bathing more pleasant:

  1. Ensure as much privacy as possible and provide adequate lighting and safety measures (grab bars, shower bench, non-skid surfaces, hand-held shower head etc.);
  2. Experiment with times of day that are mutually agreeable – include the person in the decision making;
  3. Prepare the bathroom so that it is cozy, warm and provides a distraction-free environment that is pleasing;
  4. Be positive and upbeat and use a calm voice at all times;
  5. Separate hair-washing from bathing so that the bathing session doesn’t take a long time;
  6. Be willing to negotiate how often the full shower or bath is taken – three times a week is adequate with sponge bathing in-between; and,
  7. Be aware if pain, balance or fear of falling is an issue and address the remedy for each BEFORE beginning the bathing process.

Melanie Lamar, Owner of the Right at Home Washington D.C. office, offers some additional advice:

Build Rapport

  • Find out why they don’t want to take a bath;
  • Find out what their last bathing experience was like; and,
  • Educate them on why they should bathe (good for your health, prevent spread of infection/germs, good for appearance/hygiene).

Establish Trust

  • Don’t make it mandatory, but provide words of encouragement;
  • Try not to make them upset or make them feel guilty about not bathing; and,
  • Provide a demonstration of how the bathing process will work.
  • “NO” only means no for right now, so continue to re-visit the subject until they agree to take a bath or get bathed.

Kevin Knapp, owner of the Right at Home Cherry Hill, NJ office suggest:

Seniors may be reluctant to bathe or shower for a number of different reasons. It is important to make an assessment to determine if they feel safe in their bathroom, if it is warm enough and if they can safely operate the shower or bath. If possible have a non-family member make this assessment as the senior may not be comfortable discussing their bathing fears and preferences with a family member. Knowing an individual’s objections or fears will help you determine the right solution.

  1. Make Sure the bathroom is completely safe for bathing:
    1. Install grab bars if needed
    2. If the tub is too high to step into - get a transfer bench so the bather can sit down
    3. Make sure all floor areas have non slip materials on them
    4. Install a hand held shower head, so the bather can sit and take a shower
    5. Check for dark areas and add light if necessary
  2. Make sure the bathroom is warm enough and this includes the floor. A small heater can solve most problems here.
  3. Make the experience pleasurable
    1. Have a terry robe and slippers to wrap up in after the shower. This makes the experience more fun and keeps them warm.
    2. Make soft music available if they desire.
    3. Have scented moisturizing lotions or body wash on hand.
  4. Maintain the dignity of the individual, especially those with dementia.
    1. Allow the senior to shower with their clothes on if they so desire.
    2. Give the senior control by allowing them to choose the days and times of bathing.
  5. Have a non-family member present during the time of bathing to help with water temperature and to make sure the senior feels safe. Often times a non family member will be able to direct the senior through the process of bathing easier than a family member can. This also helps to protect the modestly of the bather.

Tami Brangham, owner of the Right at Home Fresno, CA office suggests:

Remember that bathing everyday is not necessary for the older adult. As we age our skin becomes drier and more fragile and bathing daily can actually cause more harm than good. Also, the older we get, our skin sweats LESS so we don’t deal with the issues of odor as much. A full shower should be done 2-3 times per week; a sponge bath can be very effective between full showers. Some areas that should be cleaned everyday are face, groin, underarms and skin folds.

  1. Make sure to address the reasons why they object to consistent bathing. Many older people become fearful of the showering process since it places them in such a vulnerable position. Some reasons for objection may be:
    1. Fear of falling: Suggest a shower chair, removable shower head, grab bars, nonskid bath mats, and extra lighting for example.
    2. Too cold: Suggest running the shower in a closed bathroom for a few minutes to decrease the chill in the room, make sure vents are redirected
    3. Depression or other medical issues: Make sure to have a check up with the patient’s health care professional to address any medical issues that may prevent the person from showering.
    4. Alzheimer’s: This adds a whole new dimension to the older adult’s mental state. Check with your local Alzheimer’s association or online for helpful tips in dealing with this disease.
  2. Allow the older adult to have as much control over the situation as possible. Let them pick the day and times to shower as well as what soaps or lotions they would like to use.
  3. Stress a routine. It may be helpful to write down a bathing schedule. This eliminates the argument of 'IF' they are going to shower to 'WHEN' they are going to shower. Get their commitment on following the schedule and have them keep track of shower days on a calendar to easily verify consistency.
  4. Maintain the person’s dignity
  5. Hire someone to help. Many homecare agencies have bathing services. Extra assistance during showering can really help the older adult maintain their independence.

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