How to give an elderly person a bed bath

Bathing is an important part of life, both for a person’s health and for their sense of wellbeing. But it can be a difficult task for caregivers, because it is such an intimate experience.

However, bathing is essential. It not only keeps skin healthy, guards against infections, and provides an opportunity to inspect for sores or rashes, it can also be a pleasurable experience that helps people feel fresh, clean, and cared for.

As people age, many lose a degree of mobility, and are no longer able, or no longer wish, to take a shower or bath. If bathing becomes difficult, bed baths may be a solution.

What is a bed bath?

People with limited mobility may still be able to take a shower, with help, once or twice a week, or they may prefer to bathe daily at a basin.

However, for those who have very limited or no mobility, bed baths will be required. Bed baths are usually given once or twice a week or for those permanently in bed they may prefer one daily.

What will you need?

  • Three towels.
  • Two washcloths.
  • A thermometer.
  • A large measuring jug.
  • One large container for the hot towels.
  • 30mls of Dermalux Soft Towel Lotion.
  • No-rinse or dry shampoo.
  • Unscented body lotion (similar to sorbolene).
  • A waterproof sheet to keep the bed dry.
  • A table or stand to place these items on.

Preparing for the bed bath

  • Check the resident’s care plan to ensure bed bathing is appropriate for them.
  • The carer should remove any jewellery they are wearing.
  • Ensure windows are closed to avoid drafts, and make sure the room is warm. Ask the resident if they are comfortable with the temperature of the room, and change the temperature if necessary.
  • Adjust the bed so it’s at a height that will allow you to perform the bathing without hurting your back.
  • Place waterproof protection under the resident to keep the bedding dry. Or if the sheets are due to be changed it’s less of an issue to keep it dry.
  • Ensure doors are closed and blinds drawn to preserve the resident’s privacy.
  • Two people may be required for a bed bath, particularly for rolling the resident onto their side.
  • Take all precautions to ensure the resident can not fall out of bed during the bathing process.
  • You may wish to wear protective gloves, especially if the resident has been unwell.
  • Fold each towel in half, loosely roll and place it in the large container.
  • Place the washcloths on top of the towels.
  • Fill the measuring jug with 2 Litres of warm water. Water should be no hotter than 46 degrees.
  • Add 30ml of Dermalux Soft Towel Lotion. Pour the solution over the towels. You may need to knead the towels to ensure the liquid is worked into the towels.

Giving the bed bath

  • Explain to the resident what you are about to do, and as you go through the bathing, keep them informed of each step of the process.
  • Wash and dry your hands.
  • Have the resident lie on their back, with their legs slightly separated and their arms loosely by their side.
  • Loosen and remove their bedclothes, and leave the resident covered by just by a single sheet.
  • Let the resident undress themselves as much as they can, then remove any remaining clothing.
  • Wash the face, neck, and armpits with facecloth, allowing the resident to do as much as they can themselves, but helping along the way or finishing any incomplete areas yourself.
  • Once you have used one part of a washcloth, fold it so that the next time you wash you are using a clean section.
  • Offer a bedpan or urinal.
  • Wash the perianal area with a washcloth or disposable wipe.
  • Take particular care to wash in skin creases, and to check for skin that appears red or sore at all.
  • Place a towel on the resident’s chest and unroll it across chest and shoulders. Take the second towel and roll it down the front of the resident at the time time as you roll the front sheet down, preserving the dignity of the resident at all times. The towels will form a ‘T’ shape over the body.
  • Bath the resident with a gentle massaging motion over the towels. The massaging motion is not only therapeutic for the resident, it can be extremely pleasant for them.
  • Roll the resident on their side.
  • Roll the third towel down their body and gently wash from the shoulders down.
  • Use the final washcloth or wipe to clean the anal area.
  • Carefully roll the resident onto their back again.
  • Remove the towels and replace the top sheet at the same time.
  • Change the water. Wash the hair with ‘no-rinse’ or dry shampoo.

After bathing

  • Dress the resident, allowing them to do as much themselves as possible.
  • Attend to other toiletries, such as brushing their teeth and hair.
  • Change the bed linen if required.
  • Dispose of soiled towelling or wipes.
  • Apply body lotion, preferably unscented, to the arms, legs, feet, and other dry skin areas.
  • Put away your equipment.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Complete documentation
  • Finally, check with the resident to make sure they are happy and comfortable, and that they have everything they need – including their call bell.

While bathing another person is a very intimate task and might feel awkward at times, bathing is also very important for older people’s health.

Bathing can give older people a sense of being properly cared for and can help to create a sense of wellbeing for them – improving their quality of life at a time when they may feel they only have limited options to do so available to them.

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