How do I help bathe my aging and ailing parent?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I would appreciate suggestions for how to help an aging and ailing parent to bathe.

DEAR READER:

Until you step in to help, you may not even be aware of all the obstacles that can make bathing difficult for someone who is older or ailing. Arthritis, mental confusion or curtailed physical abilities can all contribute.

Your first step is to determine what is causing the problem. Does your parent have poor eyesight? Trouble lifting his or her legs into and out of the tub? Is he or she afraid of slipping? Or is your parent dealing with cognitive issues that make it difficult to carry out the steps involved in bathing?

Once you’ve assessed the cause of the problem, try to address it. Here are some issues to consider, and possible solutions:

  • Is the tub or shower accessible? If not, install grab bars, which can make it easier to get in and out. If a parent has trouble standing or balancing, try a handheld nozzle, or place a seat in the shower that your parent can sit on while bathing. Below, I’ve put an illustration of what this setup could look like.
  • Is the bathroom safe? Make sure all rugs are absorbent and nonslip. Put nonslip decals or a bath mat in the tub.
  • Is your mother or father always cold? If so, he or she may feel too chilly to bathe. Try heating the bathroom beforehand using properly installed heat lights or a safe, portable radiator. Have large towels or a thick terry robe warmed in the dryer ready for when your parent is done bathing. Or try sponge baths in a warm room.
  • Does your parent forget items that will be needed to shower? Put out everything that he or she will need — towel, soap, bathrobe, clothes, etc.
  • Does your parent have trouble remembering the steps involved in taking a shower? Calmly and gently talk him or her through them, one by one.

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A few simple changes can make your bathroom safer and easier to maneuver for an aging or ailing family member. For example, add grab bars, a shower seat, and a nonslip bath mat.

 

He wanted to remain living in his long-time home, alone. One day he fell in his bathroom. Fortunately, he had an emergency alarm system on a chain around his neck and called for help.

But the fall caused his kids to do a systematic assessment of his ability to function in the home. They were astonished by how much he couldn’t figure out (like how to get into a bathtub), and how easy it was to make his tub, shower and other parts of his home much safer for him. He remained independent for another two years — years he cherished.