How To Bathe an Older Adult: What You Must Do and How to Conquer the Challenges

This thorough tutorial will prepare you to bathe an older adult. You’ll learn what products and techniques to use and how to encourage cooperation.
how to bathe an older adult

If you’re like most caregivers, bathing your adult parent is a daunting prospect. You find yourself wondering about many things. Can you physically handle an older adult who feels pain when moving, may have a memory disorder, gets cold quickly, and whose skin seems so delicate? 

You’re certainly not alone in these kinds of caregiver concerns. The good news is that our well-researched guide is here to help you easily learn how to bathe an older adult. You can do this!

So, let’s get started!

What Are The Most Important Things To Remember When Bathing An Older Adult?

important things to remember when bathing an elderly person
  • Always treat the older adult with respect and dignity and stay calm.
  • Always ask him or her about what’s comfortable and be compassionate as well as communicative about what you’re doing.
  • Never leave the person alone while bathing – always have all equipment and supplies ready beforehand.
  • Be prepared with different bathing methods and products to allow the older adult to make as many choices and decisions as possible.
  • Be firm that while you’re willing to negotiate bathing methods, products, times, etc., the older adult must be regularly bathed.
  • Watch for skin redness or sores and mention these to your parent’s health care provider as soon as possible.

Types Of Home Bathing Options and How and When to Bathe Older Adults

options for bathing an older adult

There are several types of bathing options to consider based on how mobile and reluctant your parent is for bath-taking and what will work best for him or her on any given day. 

Whichever method works best for your family, bathe your loved one a minimum of once or twice a week for proper cleanliness and keep his or her skin healthy. 

What To Have Ready for All Bath Methods:

  • 3 or more large bath towels – for drying and for keeping parts of the body warm while other parts are being washed
  • 4 or more washcloths
  • An assortment of different types of wash and shampoo products for your mom or dad to pick from if they would like to

What To Do for All Bath Methods:

  • Before the bath, have everything you’ll need ready as you can’t leave the older person alone to run and get anything you forgot.
  • A while before bathing, be sure the room’s temperature is warmed up.
  • Respect your parent’s privacy by closing blinds, curtains, and doors.
  • With the washcloth or sponge, use gentle yet firm enough broad, long strokes when bathing the older person.
  • Always encourage your dad or mom to self-wash during the bath if ability allows.
  • Always use a separate washcloth or sponge for the buttocks.
  • Always wash the face first and the private parts (genitals) last.
  • Pat dry with the towels and never rub the skin as it may cause redness or irritation.
  • Make sure to have a selection of different soap and shampoo options, both regular and waterless, to let your mom or dad have some choice.
  • Once dry, end the bathing for the older person by applying moisturizer that you warm between your hands first.

Tub Bath or Shower Bath With Chair and Showerhead

In addition to the general directions of how to bathe an older adult above, add a few more towels to the bathroom floor along with a bathmat to help prevent slipping. Also, be sure to have a good quality rubber non-slip tub mat for bathtub baths.

After your parent is bathed and rinsed gently, use a few towels to cover him or her to stay warm during the hair wash.  

Bed Bath With Water and Full Hair Wash

soapy hands for washing hair

Along with the general supplies for all bath types above, having a plastic sheet to cover the bed first is crucial. An old, clean shower curtain can work. More towels on top can add to the older person’s comfort and offer more water absorption.

Work with one basin or bucket for soapy water and another for clean water. Change the water frequently and make sure it’s warm by checking the temperature on your wrist. 

If your parent has a hospital bed, use the highest height setting. For washing the buttocks with a separate cloth or sponge, having the person lying in a side position works best. A basin can be placed where the pillow usually goes for hair washing.

Bed Bath With Waterless Products

A waterless bed bath or sponge bath is done much like the regular version described above, only with waterless soap or no-rinse body wash and waterless shampoo. There are even waterless shampoo caps to consider.

This method can be a great first experience in how to bathe an older adult – both for mom or dad and you. It’s simpler and probably takes less time than the other methods and can ease anxiety about water spilling in the bed. No-rinse and waterless products can also be excellent for convincing someone not keen on taking a bath at all.

What if the Older Person Refuses To Bathe?

if elder refuses to bathe

It’s very common for older adults to refuse bathing – often because it tires them or they could feel embarrassed having someone else, including a family member, bathe them.

But for the sake of proper health and hygiene, you must insist that your parent take a bath at least once or twice a week. Here are some tips for convincing an older adult to be bathed regularly:

  • Explain calmly that everyone must bathe regularly to avoid skin infections. Never nag, but make it clear the bathing must be done.

  • Discuss the different bathing options and products with your mom or dad and allow the maximum amount of say or choice in the baths as possible.

  • Let your parent choose mornings, afternoons, or evenings for bathing as well as bath type and cleansing and shampooing methods.

  • Providing product options in your parent’s favorite scents or brands may help make bathing time more appealing.

  • Listen to the older person’s fears and dislikes about bathing and be prepared to address these to make the person as comfortable as possible. 

  • Understand that it can be complicated bathing Alzheimer’s patients and dementia patients because they may react in fear of having water on their skin or even to the sound of running water. The waterless and no-rinse options mentioned above may help.

Going Forward

waywiser app

Now that you understand how to bathe an older adult, you’re ready to provide compassionate bathing care for your parent along with giving him or her as much personal choice in the process as possible. 

The organized, private space in WayWiser offers a great way to track caregiving tasks such as baths. If bathing just once each week, you can add them to the shared calendar so everyone is in the loop and you can create a note with specific instructions particular to your parent, quickly sharing the information with family and paid caregivers who may need to step in to help from time to time.

BONUS: Here is a list of 20 fantastic bathroom aids to help an older adult.

Have another question? Ask an expert.

Our team is here for you. If you have a question about caring for an older adult or other member of your family—be it physical, legal, medical, financial, or anything in between—we’ll have one of our Trusted Advisors get back to you ASAP.

One thought on “How To Bathe an Older Adult: What You Must Do and How to Conquer the Challenges

  1. Good Advice, I’ve Been A Caregiver For Over 32yrs Professionally And Taking Care Of My Mom The Past 5 yrs, And It Has Been Very Hard When Giving Her A Bath, However This Was Some Good Tips, I’ll Be Looking For Tips In The Future!!

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