A Caregiver's Guide to Safe Bathing
A bath or shower is one of life's simple pleasures. Many people don't take this pleasure for granted because they need assistance when bathing. The assistance can range from someone staying in the room with them in case they have problems, or someone who actually bathes them and helps them with every step. People entrusted to help the elderly and physically disabled bathe need to be patient and understanding, and should follow some easy guidelines to make sure the bathing experience is pleasant and safe.
The first thing to do before bathing the person is to make sure that every possible measure has been taken for safety. If the person steps in and out of the tub or shower on his own, provide permanent rails and bars in and outside the shower and tub for stability and safety. If standing is difficult, a shower chair can make a huge difference. These types of changes make bathing more pleasant for the bather and easier for you.
Some people may benefit from a convenient and safe walk in bathtub. This allows for an actual bath without the need to get low in a bathtub, and eliminates the need to stand up in a shower, as well. However, this type of change isn't always possible for various reasons. Provide the help you can, such as a non-slip mat in the shower or tub, a hand-held shower head for convenience and any necessary assistance. And always be sure of the water temperature first before the bather gets into the water or underneath the shower spray.
Avoid making sudden moves, pushing or pulling the person in the direction you want him to go or even suddenly touching him without warning. Explain that you're going to wash his back now, or rinse his hair. Always let the bather know what you're doing to avoid surprises and to help make him feel more comfortable. Ask questions often, as well. If it seems he can wash his upper body but has trouble bending, ask if he'd like you to wash his lower legs and feet, for instance. Communication will help you both feel more comfortable and confident.
Also, it's important to have sufficient time for comfortable bathing. Don't rush the experience. Trying to go too fast can make the bather anxious. It might also make him feel as if he's a nuisance, or keeping you from doing something else. Choose a time for the bath that's convenient and will allow the bather to take as little or as much time as is needed.
Allow the bather as much modesty as possible. If he needs complete assistance, this is difficult. Do your best to make conversation or distract the bather as much as possible to keep him from feeling embarrassed. If the bather needs minimal assistance, allow him every bit of independence that's possible. Someone in a walk in bathtub might only need you to wash his hair or be present in case he needs assistance. Focus on other things, but stay close in case. Someone who needs more assistance might prefer to hold a towel over certain body parts when you're washing other areas. Be understanding and try to imagine how you would feel, and it will be easier to avoid any awkward moments. This can make bathing safe and pleasant regardless of how much assistance the bather needs.
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