Your bathroom can be a dangerous place and happens to be the one room in the house where most falls occur. A wet floor, damp walls and countertops, plus a steamy, soapy tub or shower make the bathroom a challenging place to navigate for even the “steadiest” family members.
The bathroom can be particularly hazardous when you’re trying to help your loved one with bathing. But with careful planning and knowing your and your loved one’s limitations, you’ll be able to handle this very personal, sometimes difficult task safely and sensitively.
Before getting your loved one into the tub, follow these steps to find out the best way to handle bathing, including creating a safe environment that makes your job easier and your loved one feel comfortable.
Get Expert Guidance
As the caregiver responsible for bathing your loved one, you should contact his/her physician or an occupational therapist (OT) to get instructions and/or training on how to do this safely. Ideally, arrange for the OT to come to your home to show you the best ways to get your loved one in and out of the bathtub, as well as provide information for safety items, such as grab bars, handrails, a transfer bench or bath seat, and a hand-held shower head/sprayer.
If your loved one recently had surgery, his or her physician can tell you about proper cleansing techniques for the affected area. Ask the doctor about any prescribed medications that could affect your loved one’s balance and trigger a fall. If your loved one is taking a medication that could make him or her feel woozy or dizzy, be sure to schedule bath time prior to administering it. Knowing if there are any precautions to take will help you make bath time a safe, manageable, and less stressful experience for you and your loved one.
Make Safety a Priority
A safe, accessible bathroom is a top priority, so your loved one can move easily in and out of this room and the tub. Here are some tips to ensure its safety:
Consider Your Safety in the Bathroom
Now that you’ve made the bathroom safe for your loved one, you need to consider your safety as well. Be sure bathing your loved one is a task you can handle physically. If he/she is a much larger person than you—relative to body size and weight—bathing your loved one may be difficult and risky to your health. For example, you may not be able to support his/her weight, particularly if you need to move him/her in and out of a bathtub.
You may have to consider other options, such as having another family member or an in-home health care professional assist with bathing. Also “special lifts” are available for use with loved ones who face physical challenges, such as obesity and significant mobility issues. Unfortunately, lifts are heavy and occupy a lot of space. If your home has a small bathroom, a lift may not be a realistic possibility to get your loved one in and out of a bathtub. Again, talk with your loved one’s doctor or an occupational therapist about ways you can tactfully and realistically manage this situation.
Talk to Your Loved One
Your loved one can also help you make his/her bath a pleasant experience! Before bathing, ask him/her about preferences, but make sure you put safety ahead of these preferences. For example, if you know your loved one is difficult to deal with during the late afternoon or early evening, don’t offer this time as an option for bathing; rather, schedule a bath for a time when he/she tends to be more relaxed and compliant with your requests. Sample questions you should ask include:
If you’re a woman caring for a man—other than your spouse or significant other—you should ask him if he would prefer a male caregiver do the bathing, and follow through as he requests.
Now it’s time for bathing your loved one. Knowing his/her concerns and desires can help you make this a dignified experience.
Getting In the Tub
It may be difficult for your loved one to have you assume responsibility for bathing him or her, particularly if he or she has been independent until recently. You both should start slowly and be patient with each other, and as the caregiver, respect your loved one’s need for privacy. Follow this routine—or a similar one—to safely get your loved one into the tub:
Getting Out of the Tub
If your loved one needed your assistance getting into the tub, he/she will also need your help getting out. Here’s what you can do to make this task easy and safe:
Most people do not need a full bath every day. A sponge bath is a refreshing alternative. Just be sure to wash daily your loved one’s face, hands and genital areas, and provide him/her with fresh undergarments. The frequency of bathing will depend on your loved one’s level of activity and ability to use a toilet, so you can increase or decrease the need to bath depending on these factors.
Bathing your loved one can be a difficult, time-consuming and sometimes unpleasant task. But with planning and patience, you and your loved one can manage it together.