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Advice for caregivers - from Upstate caregivers: How to bathe an elderly loved one

Bath towels and soapsPersonal care can become a challenge as people age. Those with dementia, especially, struggle with cleaning themselves. Loved ones often must provide assistance.

Nurses Betsy Holden and Mary Sue Stever from the geriatric service at Upstate say a caregiver has to do what works for his or her individual situation. In some cases, that may mean hiring an aide to provide baths for mom or dad. For those doing it on their own, the nurses offer this advice:

* Properly outfit the bathroom. Consider a shower chair, detachable showerhead and handrails.

* Set aside an hour or two, and choose a time of day when you, and the person you will bathe, are not tired. Realize that you will both be exhausted afterward.

* Start by preparing the bathroom: Lay out supplies and adjust water temperature.

* Guard against slips by putting water shoes on yourself and your loved one.

* Don‘t scrub or exfoliate. Use a soft cloth and mild soap.

* Let your loved one participate as much as they are able.

* Respect their dignity by placing a towel over their private parts. They, or you, can reach under to clean with a soapy cloth and then rinse with the showerhead.

Bath soaps and towels* Do the same thing, using a sheet or beach towel, if you are providing a “sponge” bath in their bed. Start with their face and move down their body, uncovering or reaching under the sheet to clean. Change your water tub frequently, so the water stays warm and clean. Roll your loved one forward to do their backside. End with their feet. Then take a fresh cloth to clean their private parts, moving from front to back.

* If you wash their hair, use no-tear shampoo. If it‘s too difficult, make an appointment with a hairdresser.

* Understand that someone who fights you about bathing may be frightened. People with dementia don‘t understand the feel of water, its coldness, or the loud noise it makes filling a tub.

* Consider playing music that they enjoy, which can serve as a distraction.

* Stock adult fresh wipes for cleaning inbetween tub baths.

* Make sure to dry your loved one thoroughly. Run the edge of a towel between each toe, like floss between teeth. Lift large breasts to dry underneath; this area is particularly susceptible to yeast infection.

* A moisturizing lotion, patted on gently, maybe be appropriate.

* Keep tabs on your loved one‘s skin and report any change – sores, blisters, redness, dryness – to their health care provider that day. Issues that surface on the skin can signal the beginning of a medical crisis.

* Remind your loved one, “You don‘t need to be embarrassed. I‘m just helping you like you used to help me.”