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How To Help An Elderly Person Shower Or Bathe: 7 Tips

You shower every day, either starting your morning off in there or bathing away the day’s stresses at its end. For you, showering is something you don’t really think about – its just a quick but necessary part of your routine.

But that’s not always the case for an older adult. They may struggle to get into and out of the shower stall, not to mention bathe themselves. How can a family member help them out?

Whether they need just a little help or much more – these steps can help you to help them.

7 Steps on how family caregivers can assist an elderly parent or other senior in the shower:

  1. Set the supplies within reach
  2. Prep the shower
  3. Check the water temperature
  4. Guide the senior into the shower while they hold the grab bar
  5. Allow them to wash on their own (unless they can’t)
  6. Step in and wash their hair if needed
  7. Rinse off, then help them exit the shower safely, onto a dry surface

It’s a very good idea to install grab bars in the shower for safety during the bathing process. We’ll talk about this a little later in this article.

How Often Should An Elderly Person Shower?

It’s generally accepted that older adults should shower at least once or twice a week.  This will help to prevent any problems with skin irritation or skin infections and possible UTIs (urinary tract infections).

Here’s the thing – we’ve been conditioned that bathing daily is necessary for everyone.

Most seniors, however, aren’t as active, so they can often get away with showering once or twice weekly, if that’s what’s most comfortable for them.

Of course, if the weather is very hot and sticky or the senior has been exercising, you may want to encourage more frequent showering to help with any body odor, etc.

And, you should know that sponge bathing (aka sink bath) can also be used in lieu of a shower.

For most younger people though, it’s not a question of how often you’ll shower, as you likely do it every day.

However, it’s likely not a difficult task for you to step into the shower, hold slippery items, and reach parts of your body that need cleaning.

Whereas for many older people, these seemingly easy tasks can be difficult.

A very common reason that an elderly individual may not shower on a regular basis is that taking a shower isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Your senior may have limited mobility or other mobility issues, so it’s just not as easy a task as it is for younger adults.

Another common reason that an aging parent may avoid taking too many showers is the fear of falling.

According to website 30% of people aged sixty five and over who were injured in bathrooms sustained a fracture. In addition to that, 38% aged eighty five and over needed hospitalisation as a result of the injury that they sustained.

How Do You Help Someone Shower? A Step By Step Guide

If you’ve never assisted another person when they bathe or other personal care matters, you may not be sure where to start.

While it can be a bit awkward at first, with time, you’ll be glad you know how to help so the senior in your life can maintain their good hygiene.

The most important thing to remember is that during this entire process, make sure to continuously provide positive reinforcement.

Give the older person directions as needed, guide them throughout the shower time and respect how much privacy they may need to feel comfortable.

This will go a long way in making the entire task more pleasant and less frightening (especially if your senior loved one suffers from a cognitive impairment).

Per the points in the intro, here’s what to do:

1. Set The Supplies Within Reach

Home caregivers should want your senior’s shower outfitted in a certain way to maximize their comfort and ease of use.

You should have several items in there, such as…

  • a hand-held shower head that detaches
  • tear free shampoo
  • liquid soap (this can be easier than a bar of soap)
  • shower dispensers
  • grab bars
  • shower chair or bench
  • sponge or brush
  • body lotion
  • non slip mats and stickies
  • terrycloth robe or cover up

Some additional items you may want to consider are…

  • a heat lamp over the shower (if your loved one gets cold)
  • shower water filter
  • anti scald valve (can be installed by a plumber)

Of course, you also want towels within easy reach and a non-slip bath mat outside the shower as well.

If the shower stall is large enough – you can also use a shower stool to help organize some items (just do not use this as a seat to sit on).

Read our 13 Tips On Creating Safe Shower Stalls For Seniors

2. Prep The Shower

Once you buy or gather all your supplies, bring them into your senior’s bathroom. If they haven’t already done so, have the senior undress or change out of their regular clothes into a nightgown or cover up.

3. Check The Water Temperature

When all your items are in place, turn on the water. You don’t want the senior stepping in quite yet, however.

Instead, you want to feel the water temperature personally, using your hand to do so. Normally warm water is a good temperature for most people.

If the water is too hot, make sure you balance it with cold. An anti-scald valve that we mentioned above will help to prevent the water temperature from getting too hot.

Don’t crank the cold knob too far in one direction, though, as a freezing shower isn’t very comfortable, either.

4. Guide The Senior Into The Shower While They Hold The Grab Bar

With the water temperature good and all the supplies ready, have the senior hold onto the grab bar, and then walk into the shower.

This should be done in a slow, concerted process, as you don’t want the person to slip or stumble. On that note, make sure you’re ready to guide them into the shower if necessary.

Have the senior sit down on the shower chair or bench.

At this point, they’ll need to remove the nightgown or cover up. For privacy, they can either hold or drape a towel around themselves after sitting down, or you can use something like a hairdresser’s cape to maintain their dignity.

Watch this video to see how to use a cape while helping someone shower. (Although a hairdresser’s cape is water repellent (or waterproof), you can see how you can easily modify this technique to wash and rinse the person while using one or using a towel to cover them.)

5. Allow The Senior To Wash On Their Own (Unless They Can’t)

Some elderly people (especially dementia patients or those with cognitive impairment) can’t bathe themselves at all, in which case you’ll have to do it for them.

You can start with either washing their hair or cleaning their body. Assuming they want to begin by cleaning the body, a soft sponge or washcloth will be ideal for this.

Get the sponge soapy. The senior could possibly do this themselves, but maybe they can’t get to every part of their body.

Begin with the face, then move onto the arms, the torso, then the back, the legs, and finally, end with the feet. Basically, move from the cleanest areas to the dirtiest.

We recommend letting the senior take care of cleaning their anus and groin unless they absolutely cannot do so.

During this time, keep your eyes peeled for sores or rashes on the skin. If there are new lesions or sore that aren’t healing, or if you keep seeing more develop, get in touch with the person’s doctor.

6. Step In And Wash Their Hair If Needed

You may have to shampoo and condition the senior’s hair yourself, as they could have a hard time lifting their arms up to their head and lathering their hair.

Make sure you’re using a no-tears shampoo so it doesn’t sting if it gets in their eyes (something you should try to avoid, but isn’t always in your control).

No-rinse shampoo and conditioner are other options that can save you time.

In some cases, the elderly person may have no problems washing their own hair. If so, then make sure you’re passing them the shampoo and conditioner so they don’t have to reach too far.

7. Rinse Off, Then Exit The Shower Safely, Onto A Dry Surface

Every shower ends with rinsing off, unless you used no-rinse shampoo and conditioner. A detachable shower head makes rinsing easier.

With the shower done with, turn off the water for the senior (if they can’t do it themselves) but tell them to stay put for a moment. You want to make sure you have a soft, non-slip carpet or mat for the senior to step onto.

Drape a soft terrycloth robe around them, then reach under it to remove the towel or cape they have being using as a cover up. The robe will dry their skin non-abrasively.

If they need help towel-drying, then take it slow and easy, being careful not to aggravate sensitive or injured skin.

If the senior is prone to skin dryness, then help them put lotion on after the shower if they can’t do so themselves.

What Other Items Can Make A Shower Safer For Seniors?

Ensuring the safety of elderly individuals during bathing is paramount, and while grab bars are a crucial component, there are several other safety measures and tools that can be employed to enhance the safety of the bathroom environment. Here’s a deeper dive into some of these measures:

1. Non-Slip Bath Mats:

  • Description: These are mats made of rubber or other slip-resistant materials that can be placed inside the bathtub or shower and outside it.
  • Benefits:
    • Traction: They provide additional traction, reducing the risk of slips and falls.
    • Drainage: Many have holes to allow water to drain, preventing puddle formation.
    • Versatility: They come in various sizes and can be used both inside the shower and on the bathroom floor.

2. Handheld Shower Heads:

  • Description: A shower head that can be detached from its holder and used to direct water flow more precisely.
  • Benefits:
    • Flexibility: Allows seniors to shower while seated or standing.
    • Control: Offers better control over water direction, minimizing the need to move or twist excessively.
    • Adjustability: Many models have adjustable settings, such as massage or gentle flow, catering to individual preferences and needs.

3. Shower Seats and Benches:

  • Description: Sturdy seats or benches designed to be used inside the shower or bathtub.
  • Benefits:
    • Resting Spot: Provides a place for seniors to sit and rest during a shower, reducing fatigue.
    • Stability: Offers a stable surface, minimizing the risk of falls.
    • Versatility: Some models are foldable or adjustable in height.

4. Temperature Control Devices:

  • Description: Devices that regulate or indicate the water temperature.
  • Benefits:
    • Prevention of Burns: Ensures that the water temperature remains at a safe level.
    • Consistency: Maintains a consistent temperature, preventing sudden spikes or drops.

5. Non-Slip Bathroom Rugs:

  • Description: Rugs designed with a non-slip backing, suitable for placing outside the shower or bathtub.
  • Benefits:
    • Traction: Provides a safe surface to step onto after bathing.
    • Absorbency: Helps absorb excess water, reducing the risk of slips on wet tiles.

6. Lever Faucets:

  • Description: Faucets that operate with a lever mechanism instead of traditional knobs.
  • Benefits:
    • Ease of Use: Easier for seniors with limited hand strength or arthritis to operate.
    • Temperature Indicators: Some models come with clear hot/cold indicators, reducing the risk of burns.

Incorporating these safety measures and tools can significantly enhance the safety and comfort of the bathroom environment for elderly individuals, thus reducing the risk of accidents and promoting independence.

Where Do You Put Grab Bars In A Shower?

Grab bars are a must in elderly people’s showers. They give the senior something to grab onto if they feel unsteady on their feet.

The placement and installation of the grab bars is paramount, as improper installation could make the bars unsteady and thus not safe to use.

Okay, so where should you put the grab bars in a shower setting? 

We recommend you have more than one grab bar in the shower if you can, and up to three or four for maximum safety.

  • You’ll want one grab bar nearest the faucet handles
  • Another grab bar on the side wall in the shower
  • And the third one right at the shower stall’s entrance (provided your senior has a shower stall and not a tub)

Typically, grab bars in the shower should be installed 33 to 36 inches from the floor of the bathroom (this is according to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Standards).

But I would strongly recommend to take into consideration the height and physical capabilities of the person you are installing these grab bars for.

If possible, go through a few simulations with them. Have them walk into and out of the shower / bathtub. Have them pretend to bath themselves, wash their hair, etc.

Notice where a grab bar would be of assistance to them.

When installing a grab bar, be sure to use the mounting brackets that come with it and attach the wall studs with bolts.

How To Shower With A Shower Chair (How To Use A Shower Chair Correctly)

Shower chairs or shower benches are often great for the elderly, but without proper use, they become another bath time hazard.

This is because, while the senior may spend most of their shower sitting on the chair, they must stand at some point, such as to wash the lower half of their body or to exit the shower area.

For the most safety, we recommend that a shower chair have:

  • a back rest for support
  • arms to aid in balancing the bather (they should be padded for comfort and to reduce the chance of wet hands slipping off them)
  • adjustable legs
  • non-slip (rubber) feet or suction cups on the feet
  • a frame that will safely hold their weight (look for a bariatric model if the senior is a larger person)

To safely use one, you must double-check that the shower chair has both slip-resistant feet and a bath mat underneath to prevent the person’s feet from slipping when they stand.

The chair should not move, slide, or wobble on the shower floor or in the tub, if that’s where it has been placed.

How Do You Help Someone With Dementia Shower?

If the elderly person in your life has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, there’s a possibility that showering may become a big issue going forward.

The senior’s anxiety or fears around water can prevent them from showering, as can the embarrassment of not being able to bathe themselves or having others see them naked.

You could find that weeks pass and the senior refuses to shower resulting in poor personal hygiene.

If the senior with dementia absolutely resists bathing, here are some tips to gently change their mind:

  • It doesn’t always have to be you who offers the assistance. If you have another member of the family, have them ask to bathe the senior instead. They may get a more positive reaction than you. Try not to take this personally and remember the goal – that the elderly person in your life maintains their hygiene.
  • Rephrase words like bathing or showering. You could try saying “washing up”, and this may have a better reaction from your senior.
  • Make the bathroom as appealing and comfortable as possible. This could alleviate some anxiety about bathing or showering.
  • Play soft music to relax the person.
  • Keep it quick. This is especially important if your senior has become afraid of water. The longer they’re in the bath or shower, the more agitated they may become.
  • Call on the assistance of a professional caregiver if your senior still refuses to shower. This professional may be able to coax the elder into bath time when you couldn’t.
  • Once you have successfully gotten the senior to shower or bathe, try to incorporate it into their daily routine. If showering becomes something that happens every day, they may accept it more easily.

Related Articles

Where To Put Grab Bars In A Bathroom (And How To Install Them)

How To Make The Bathroom Safe For Your Elderly Parents

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