Taking care of an elderly loved one can be difficult, but it can certainly come with it’s own set of complications if the older adult is bedridden.
But, there are things that you can do to make it much easier for you (as the caregiver) and for your senior loved one who very much needs your help.
How Do You Care For Someone Who Is Bedridden?
Our tips on how to care for a bedridden elderly person include the following:
- Pay special attention to the integrity of their skin.
- Keep the sheets and blankets clean.
- Proper bedding to make your senior loved one as comfortable as possible.
- Keeping to a schedule which helps with toileting.
- Providing enough entertainment and activities with some purpose
- If necessary, help them to reposition their body multiple times a day.
Let’s go into some details on each of these individual issues.
6 Tips On How To Best Take Care Of An Elderly Bedridden Loved One
1. Avoiding Bedsores (aka Pressure Ulcers)
Many (if not all) elderly individuals have thinner skin – it seems to just be a natural part of growing older. As a result – it’s very easy to get skin bruises, cuts and scrapes which can possibly get infected. So, there’s always that to watch out for.
But if that elderly person is bedridden, the problems from thinner skin are compounded. It simply increases the chances of getting bedsores.
There are multiple reasons why bedsores occur:
- Staying in one position for too long which puts a lot of pressure on any one specific areas of the body.
- Being underweight means that you have less fat over bony areas of your body which can then make those areas more prone to bed sores.
- Scraping the skin against any area such as sliding off of bed, a toilet, against a chair, etc.
- Poor hydration can make the skin more susceptible as well
- Medical conditions such as diabetes, poor blood circulation, vascular diseases and others can also contribute to poor skin integrity which can make you more prone to bedsores.
- You can read more about pressure ulcers here at mayoclinic.org
The #1 recommendation to help avoid bedsores is to reposition the body every two hours.
Of course – there’s no 100% method to avoid this issue entirely. I just want you to know that because I know that if you are caring for a senior loved one who is bedridden and they develop a bedsore, I don’t want you to feel guilty if you are following all the guidelines to try to avoid them.
Do all you can to keep that person well fed, hydrated and to move them at least every 2 hours.
Speak with your physician and/or nurse on any medication, creams and/or tools that you can use to help to keep the integrity of the skin as good as it can possibly be.
I know when I was working as an Occupational Therapist in nursing homes we often used Boot Heel Protectors to help with bed sores on our patients’ heels. They worked quite well.
Here are some other tools and gadgets that may be useful for you and your senior loved one.
- Inflattable bed air topper
- Turning Wedge – in the hospitals and rehab units we used to use lots and lots of pillows to help reposition our patients and that often worked but this wedge may be an easier solution for you since it’s just one product vs. lots of multiple pillows to have to change and clean regularly.
- Tailbone pillows – if your senior loved one is able to sit up in his/her bed or even able to spend a little time on a chair then this donut cushion may be useful to alleviate any pressure on his/her glutes and coccyx area.
2. Keep The Bed Linen Clean
Many elderly seniors who are bedridden are also using diapers and incontinence pads as well. It’s extremely important to change diapers and incontinence pads as needed. You want to avoid your senior loved one’s skin to stay in contact for a length of time with urine and/or feces.
The products I can recommend here are…
- Super absorbent adult diapers – Tena is one of the best absorbent adult diapers on the market.
- Heavy absorbency incontinence pads
- A waterproof mattress protector – this is just an extra bit of protection for your mattress.
- Bedside urinals for men
- Bedside commodes – I like this particular one which is actually more like a bench simply because it’s easier to transfer the bedridden person from sitting up in bed to the commode
- Transfer boards – I used transfer boards like these multiple times every day that I worked as an OT and they were invaluable.
If any feces or urine does get onto the bed sheets or covers, etc. I would recommend to wash those sheets immediately using the following steps.
- If there is feces on the sheets, remove it with paper towels. Place those used paper towels in a plastic bag and discard the bag.
- Fill the sink or bathtub (whatever would accommodate the item you are washing) with water (a cool temperature). In a bathtub add 1/4 cup of laundry detergent. You can adjust the amount of detergent you use depending on the size of the container you are filling with water.
- Place your dirty items in the water, put on disposable plastic gloves and agitate the water and the material with your hand, swooshing back and forth for about 10 minutes. A human washing machine! If you want to use rubber gloves for this make sure to clean them afterwards with an antibacterial wipe or a cloth soaked in a disinfectant. (Avoid using alcohol to clean rubber gloves).
- Drain the water, twist the material you are cleaning so that any excess water is removed.
- Place your material in a plastic bin.
- Bring everything to your washing machine where you will add any stain treatment product you may have like Shout or Grandma’s Secret or other product. Make sure to apply this stain remover directly to the affected area(s). Follow the directions from your specific stain remover product.
- Wash the sheets using both laundry detergent and chlorine bleach. Of course if your sheets are anything other than white make sure to use color safe bleach!
3. Products To Increase Comfort While Bedridden
You want to, of course, make sure that your elderly loved one is as comfortable as possible while they are in bed so anything that you can do to to help with that would certainly be most appreciated!
Here are some products that I personally use and can recommend…
- Orthopedic support wedge pillow – it’s 4 pieces (of course you can use any ones you like) but I love how this contours to my body to make it very comfortable to lay in bed. Works great when my back goes out!
- Under mattress wedges – to permanently position the mattress so that the head is elevated you can use these plastic wedges that fit under the mattress
- Leg pillows – these are great to elevate the legs and if positioned correctly, it can also relieve any pressure on heels as well.
- Bedside tables – my 98 mom-in-law is not bedridden but she does take several naps each day and she loves to read. So, this bedside table that tilts is a perfect fit for her.
- Cleaning products for bathing – these no rinse bathing wipes make getting clean while bedridden much easier.
- Waterless shampoo and conditioner – this is a great little product. It’s a cap that has shampoo and conditioner in it – allowing you to wash and condition someone’s hair without having to mess with water and other messy elements. Here’s a video showing you how it works.
- Clothing that’s easy to pull on and off. Any clothing that has elastic and velcro instead of zippers and buttons will be much easier to use and manage.
4. Keeping To A Schedule
When you are bedridden – it’s very easy to lose track of time. And for caregivers, the multitide of time consuming tasks can make time slide away so quickly, you wonder where the day went.
For these reasons, it’s very important to do all you can to keep to a schedule. The benefits are many…
- Daily routine helps to keep you on track with medications, hydration, eating and sleep patterns.
- Routines help to reduce stress (having predictable and structured events can greatly reduce stress).
- Routines also help to increase a sense of safety and security.
- Doing the same thing at the same time each day is very helpful for people with dementia and other cognitive issues.
- Schedules can help caregivers to care for themselves. Knowing that every Monday and Thursday afternoon you have 4 hours away (just as an example) can help you to get through those days and moments when you feel the world is closing in on you.
5. Entertainment and Activities
Along with the usual types of tasks that need to be done daily such as bathing, toileting, eating, drinking, etc. It’s also very important to keep up with some type of “fun” activities as well.
Of course, you want to accommodate the types of activities your senior loved one enjoys as much as possible but here are some ideas that may help to keep everyone entertained.
- Adult coloring books
- Reading and/or listening to books
- Games, either solo or with others
- Television and movies and Youtube
- Listening to podcasts
6. Physical Movement Of Some Kind
Any series of exercises that you can do with your senior loved one in bed would be beneficial. This could include any movements that they can make as well as movements that your physical therapist would instruct you to do on that person.
I do recommend that you get consultation from your physician and a physical therapist before you do any form of exercises with a bedridden person.
What Happens When A Person Is Bedridden?
There are multiple factors that complicate issues for someone who is bedridden and as a caregiver, it’s important to know what these are and how you can best prevent them.
Being bedridden leads to many complications such as loss of muscle strength and endurance. Contractures, osteoporosis from disuse and the degeneration of joints can occur. Being confined to bed can add to the likelihood of developing an increased heart rate, decreased cardiac output, hypotension, and thromboembolism. People with disabilities who are bedridden are at risk for developing pressure sores. Those who are bedridden are at risk in a house fire due to their lack of mobility. Showering can become impossible. Bedsores develop if a person: who spends most or all of the day in bed without changing position. Being confined to bed may result in a person remaining passive and withdrawn. The ability to transfer to a chair and the negative attitudes of caregivers is associated with continued confinement to bed and reduction of such requests. Those who are confined to bed have risks related to falls. Falling from a bed can result in injury.Wikipedia.org
A consultation with your physician will help you to know what to do in your specific situation for your senior loved one.
Also, if you have hospice coming in (and I would encourage you to at least call them) – their nurse and doctor could help you as well.
How Often Should Bedridden Patients Be Turned?
As I said earlier in this article – the recommended number of times a bedridden patient should be turned is at least every 2 hours.
Of course, this is a difficult schedule to keep up, especially during your sleep time. I do not recommend that you get up every 2 hours to reposition your elderly loved one. You cannot care for someone if you aren’t caring for yourself first.
A good tip is that if you have to give them medication during the night – then you can turn them at that time. Or, if you are getting up to use the bathroom yourself, then that would be a good time to turn them as well.
Again, if you can keep yourself and your senior loved one on a schedule of some type – that would help you greatly.