When caring for an older loved one, assisting with grooming and personal hygiene may be part of your routine. Bathing and dressing can be difficult for seniors to do on their own. Good hygiene and grooming practices are essential basics for any caregiver. Poor hygiene not only causes health problems but can also affect the quality of life for older adults.
In this extensive bathing and dressing guide, the following will be covered:
Bathing an Elderly Person
Bathing is a very personal and private activity, and getting your help may be frustrating for your loved one. To make the experience more enjoyable for both of you, as a caring caregiver, you must grasp how to provide grooming help appropriately.
How Often Should an Elderly Person Bathe?
One of the most common questions family caregivers ask is how often bathing needs to be done. Do seniors need to bathe every day? The answer is no. Bathing every day is not necessary. Two or three times a week should be enough to stay clean and avoid skin issues.
Sponge baths between bath times will help an older person stay clean and fresh. However, there are certain body parts that should be kept clean on a daily basis. This includes the face, oral cavity, private parts, and armpits.
How To Convince Your Loved One To Bathe
It is normal for your older loved one to be reluctant or even frustrated about bath time. Bathing is a very private activity. It can cause embarrassment for anyone to be exposed and vulnerable. Remember this when your care recipient expresses their frustration or anger.
Below are some tips to bathing without a battle and making bathing less intimidating:
Talk to your loved one.
There may be a reason why they are avoiding bathing. Maybe they are afraid of slipping or are feeling vulnerable. Knowing the underlying reasons will help you come up with appropriate solutions.
The way you talk about hygiene and bathing can influence how your loved one feels. If you want a person to be more accepting of bathing, reframe the term bathing and make it a positive word.
Make bath time relaxing.
Bathing an older person doesn’t have to be so clinical and tedious. Create a relaxing atmosphere so they look forward to a routine bathing experience. Pamper them with spa-like touches for an elevated bath experience. For example, play soft, soothing music and use essential oils and their favorite soaps and shampoos (see bath pictures below.)
Using positive rewards is more effective than yelling at them in frustration. Negotiate a fun activity or simple treat afterward to ease their hesitation.
What Can Happen if an Older Person Isn’t Getting Clean Enough?
Poor hygiene can impact the health of older adults. It can cause potentially serious health problems. Because seniors have low immunity, they are more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
Some of the effects of poor hygiene in seniors include:
- Body odor
- Skin infections
- Bacteria infections
- Parasitic infections on hair or skin
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
Must-have Bathroom Equipment for Older Adults
Safety should be a top priority when bathing older people. Mobility and balance issues put older adults at high risk for falls and slipping accidents. A walk-in shower or walk-in tub may be the best option for bathing. These senior-friendly bathroom fixtures are designed with older adults in mind, eliminating hazards like high tub sides and steps.
For a safer bathing experience, update your space with the necessary tools. Below are must-have bathroom equipment options for the elderly:
Bathtub transfer bench
A transfer bench is designed to help an individual move in and out of the tub safely. They come in many different styles and have adjustable legs to fit different types and sizes of tubs.
Similar to the transfer bench, a shower chair’s purpose is to make bath time safer. This product also has adjustable, non-slip legs and a comfortable seat to support your care recipient.
Grab bars are metal, plastic, or fiberglass still bars installed in certain places in the bathroom to make standing and sitting easier. These are usually installed in the tub or shower area, and near the toilet.
Handheld shower head
Having a handheld shower head will make bathing easier. With the freedom of its handheld feature, you can wash hard-to-reach places to ensure a more thorough clean.
Non-slip bath mat
This simple piece of equipment is a must-have for an older adult’s bathroom. Non-slip bath mats are made of rubber or silicone, which work well on wet and moist surfaces. It can be laid out on the floor of the tub or shower to help prevent slipping.
Supplies Needed for Bathing Seniors
In addition to installing senior-friendly bathroom equipment, you will also need to have the proper supplies for an effective and relaxing bathing experience. Include favorite grooming tools, along with the must-have bathing products for seniors below:
The skin changes as a person ages and it will need special attention. It is advisable to use mild and fragrance-free soaps that can gently cleanse without drying the skin.
Choose a shampoo that doesn’t have harsh chemicals in the ingredients. Consider using natural and organic shampoos that will moisturize the scalp and protect aging hair.
Long handle brush
A long handle brush can scrub the back, legs, and other areas while a person is sitting comfortably. Make sure the bristles or sponges are soft enough for tender skin.
Washcloths and bath towels
Have several towels ready for wiping the face and other sensitive areas. Use soft cotton towels that are gentle on the skin. Plush bath towels that are ultra-absorbent will make drying time quick and pleasant.
How To Bathe an Older Person: Step by Step
Before starting, remember to make safety a priority. Have all the safety equipment ready and don’t rush the process. Make sure the bathroom is warm and bright. It is important to create a safe environment for you AND your loved one where you both feel comfortable during bathing.
Step 1: Guide gently into the shower or tub.
With the safety equipment laid out in the bathroom, guide them slowly into the shower or bath area. Have them sit comfortably in the shower chair or bench, which should be positioned near a grab bar to assist with sitting down and standing up.
Step 2: Cover sensitive parts with a towel or bathing wrap.
If your loved one isn’t comfortable being fully naked, cover their private areas with a towel or bathing wrap so they don’t feel exposed. Be respectful and understand that this may be an awkward situation for them. We found caregiver bathing wraps on Amazon and Walmart.
Step 3: Check the water temperature and pressure.
Set the water to warm with mild pressure. Have them feel the temperature on their hands and adjust the level according to what feels best for them. Ideally, run and warm up the water prior to your loved one getting undressed and settled in.
Step 4: Start washing the body from the top.
Start by running the water over the torso area to wet the skin. Wash from the shoulders down using a mild soap. This is also a good time to check the body for red areas, wounds, or sores. If they do have wounds, rashes, or cuts, be gentle around those areas but clean thoroughly.
Step 5: Allow independence whenever possible.
If they are strong enough, hand them a wash towel or a scrub and have them clean their own body. Point out important areas like the armpits, neck, and chest. Give them constant reassurance that they are doing well. Assist in washing the areas that are hard to reach like the back, legs, and feet. Make sure to wash sensitive parts, including the genital area. Always communicate what you are going to do so they will be on the same page. Rinse the lather off with warm water.
Step 6: Shampoo hair.
Move on to shampooing the hair. You can have them cover their face with a small towel to protect their eyes, while their head is bowed down slightly. Use mild or natural shampoo to wash their hair. Massage the scalp gently with your hands. Rinse thoroughly.
Step 7: Dry completely.
Older adults can get cold easily, so it is important to dry quickly and completely. After rinsing, cover them with a large, absorbent towel or have them wear a bathrobe, so they won’t get chilly. Guide them to step out of the shower or tub and into the drying area. Pat them dry gently. You can also use a blow dryer to help speed up the drying process.
Ideally, have a fixed bath time so you can establish a routine that would be easy to follow. Get used to bathing at a specific time of day and the more comfortable they will become with the routine.
How To Give a Bedridden Person a Sponge Bath: Step-by-Step
If your elderly loved one is bed bound, a sponge bath (also known as a bed bath) will be the best option for bathing. It is advisable to give a sponge bath around three times a week. Bathing too often can dry out the skin and trigger skin conditions.
Follow the guidelines below to ensure a smooth bathing experience:
Step 1: Gather and prepare your materials.
Prepare the washing materials and set them near the bed. You will need mild soap, wash towels, two wash basins, and a waterproof bed pad or garbage bag. Fill the basins with warm water – one is for washing and the other one is for rinsing.
Step 2: Line the bed with a waterproof bed pad.
To prevent the bed from getting wet, place a waterproof lining between your loved one and the bed. Gently roll them to their side and position the bed pad, garbage bag, or towel on the bed.
Step 3: Undress them carefully.
Before undressing, cover their body with a modesty bathing wrap or a large, clean towel or sheet. This will preserve modesty during the process. Inform them of the steps you are doing so they won’t be alarmed. Carefully remove their clothing and cover them with the sheet again. Only expose areas that you are cleaning.
Step 4: Begin the sponge bath.
Start from the cleanest area – the face – and work down to the feet. Begin the sponge bath by wiping the face with the wash towel. Then clean in this order: neck, arms, chest, abdomen, legs, and back. Wash the private areas and buttocks last. Apply mild soap when necessary and use gentle strokes when cleaning. Don’t forget to gently clean under skin folds and other hard-to-reach areas.
Step 5: Rinse with a clean washcloth.
After cleaning an area, dip a clean washcloth in water to rinse the soap off the skin. Dry thoroughly before moving on to a new area to clean. Cover them with the sheet after washing and drying.
Step 6: Moisturize and dress in clean clothes.
When you are done washing and drying, apply lotion to moisturize their skin. Redress them again with clean clothes or a bathrobe. Like the undressing process, do this carefully and try not to expose areas of the body you are not working on.
In-Home Bathing Services
If bathing your older loved one becomes too difficult and you would be more comfortable hiring someone for the task, there are several options. Consider hiring a private caregiver or home care bath aide. You can also search for in-home bathing services, which offer help with personal care routines. Some of the tasks provided by this in-home care service are:
- Oral care
- Styling hair
- Nail, skin, and hair grooming
- Makeup application
- Changing bed linens
Dressing an Elderly Person
When it comes to dressing an older person, they must feel comfortable during the entire process. Keeping your senior parent or loved one well-groomed and feeling good can help improve their self-esteem. A little TLC can go a long way in making bathing, grooming, and dressing tasks less daunting.
If you find dressing a loved one tedious, consider adaptive clothing to make the process easier for both of you. Adaptive clothing is beneficial for dressing/undressing, ease of toileting, and can prevent unnecessary discomfort.
How To Dress an Older Person: Step-By-Step
You can help dress your elderly loved one even without caregiver training. Follow the step-by-step guide below:
Step 1: Prepare the environment.
Before starting, prepare the environment. Clear out risk hazards to avoid slips. Ensure privacy by closing doors and drawing curtains and/or blinds.
Step 2: Help choose the clothing they want to wear.
Make the choice easier by picking out two options. Do not overwhelm them with too many clothes and respect their choices
Step 3: Help with undressing.
Before undressing, ask for their consent and explain what you are doing. If they have the strength and dexterity, allow them to undress on their own. Assist in areas that may be hard for them to reach. Remember to be patient. Instead of rushing or forcing them to do something, use gentle reminders when you need to.
Step 4: Assist with dressing.
When dressing, give them clear instructions on the steps they have to do. Assist them in tasks that might be challenging – like closing buttons or tying shoelaces. Don’t forget to smooth out small details like the collar or tucking in the shirt.
Step 5: Compliment their style.
After they have finished dressing, could you give them praise for doing the task? Don’t forget to compliment their style! A few flattering words can improve their confidence and lift their spirits. Finishing on a high note also makes the process more enjoyable.
Adaptive Clothing for Seniors
The best types of clothing for older adults should be easy-to-wear outfits with comfortable fabric. Adaptive clothing for seniors is ideal, especially for those with limited mobility. Shop for pieces that have details like:
- Magnetic buttons
- Velcro closures
- Front closures
- Elastic waistbands
- Soft and breathable fabric
Dressing Tips for People With Dementia: Organizing Clothes
Simplify the closet.
A clean and simple wardrobe is easier to choose from. Too many clothing options can be overwhelming and confusing. Rotate seasonal clothes in the closet, and remove clothing that isn’t appropriate for the season.
Don’t rush the process.
Keep the dressing process organized. Lay out clothes nicely and give clear instructions on which item they should put on first. Never ask a person with dementia to rush or hurry, as this will cause agitation.
Pick comfortable clothing.
Choose pieces of clothing that are easy to put on and take off. This will be especially important for people who may have difficulty with finer motor skills. Comfort is also key, so make sure to select items that don’t constrict or bind.
Respect their decisions.
They may want to mix and match prints or wear something you didn’t pick out. Let them have fun with their fashion and experiment with different looks. It’s a great way for them to express their personal style!
Avoiding Skin Tears During Dressing
Older skin is fragile and prone to skin tears. Friction when dressing or undressing can cause a skin tear if you are not careful. This is also why choosing adaptive clothing pieces for older adults is advisable. Buttons and hooks can tug on the skin and accidentally lead to a skin tear.
If a skin tear happens, here’s how to treat it:
- Apply gentle pressure and control the bleeding.
- Clean the wound with water or saline.
- Slowly unfold the flap and lay it over the wound.
- Dress the wound while keeping the flap in place.
- Monitor for signs of infection.
What Is the Safest Way To Dress an Elderly Person?
Dressing and undressing must be done carefully and slowly to avoid skin tears and other injuries. Your loved one should be calm and not resist. If they are uncooperative, wait until they are in a more receptive mood.
Also, always choose clothing pieces that will not be hazardous to them. If you don’t feel like it’s safe for you to do this task, seek help from a professional care provider.
What Is the Best Order To Dress Someone?
The order of dressing someone else can be confusing. Should the pants go first or the shirt? Some people may prefer to dress in one article of clothing at a time. Others might start with the bottom half of their outfit and then move on to the top. There is no wrong answer as long as you and your loved one are comfortable with the process.
Our caregivers recommend starting from the bottom and moving to the top. Slippers or shoes should be the last clothing item to put on.
How To Dress Someone Who Is Bedbound
Dressing an older person who is bedbound can be challenging. Because of mobility limitations, expect this task to be more physically demanding. Remember to be respectful during the process.
Step 1: Prepare the environment.
Safeguard the room by making sure it isn’t exposed to others. Close the doors and draw the curtains or blinds for privacy.
Step 2: Let them pick their clothes.
Provide your loved one with clothing options if they can choose. If not, decide what to wear for them but keep in mind their comfort and personal style. For easier access, use adaptive clothing and comfortable fabrics.
Step 3: Undress carefully.
Cover their body with a sheet to keep warm and to make the process less awkward. Start by undressing on their stronger side. Remove their shirt from that side. Tuck the undressed shirt under their back. Unbutton the pants and pull them down on each side carefully.
Step 4: Roll to one side.
Gently help them roll to the other side. Remove the other half of the shirt. Remove their underwear. Make sure to keep their body covered to preserve modesty.
Step 5: Dress them in their chosen clothes.
Begin dressing in this order: underwear, pants, and shirt. Have them lay on their back to slide the underwear and pants up quickly. Lay them on their strong side again and start dressing them from their weaker side. Place their arm in the new shirt sleeve and tuck the shirt under their back in preparation for the other side. Guide them to lay on their back and dress on the other side. Finish by closing buttons and smoothing out fabric wrinkles.
In-Home Dressing Services
Dressing can be a difficult task for those impacted by Alzheimer’s or dementia. If you need help, consider hiring private caregivers who will dress your loved one correctly in the clothes they prefer. Look into home care agencies that provide dressing services at an individual’s residence and around-the-clock monitoring other needs (i.e., bathing).
Bathing and clothing an elderly loved one might be difficult, but it is critical to remember that these actions are necessary for their health and well-being. You may make this process simpler for both of you by using healthy bathing practices and communicating effectively. Remember to take your time with each step to guarantee your loved one’s safety and comfort.
Are there any tips or advice we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
Frequently Asked Questions
A good bathing routine, rewards, and gentle communication can all help convince your elderly loved one to bathe. Ensuring that the bathing environment is safe can lessen the worry that they might be feeling. By making the activity fun and relaxing, you will establish a positive experience they can look forward to.
Sponge baths are the ideal way to clean a person who is bedridden. Prepare your bathing supplies and lay out a waterproof liner or towel on the bed. Start cleaning from the face down, leaving the dirtiest parts for last. Dry thoroughly with an ultra-absorbent towel. It is advisable to do sponge baths about 3 times a week to help keep bacteria at bay. The face, oral cavity, armpits, and genitals should be cleaned on a daily basis.
If your loved one isn’t too keen on bathing, try offering rewards that they can look forward to. Communicate with them and find out what could be bothering them. If it becomes too difficult and they are still resisting, it may be time to hire a professional caregiver.
Prepare the room, help them pick out the clothes, and then assist them in putting on the pieces one by one. Allow them to do as much as they can while making sure that you are guiding them throughout the process. Check if buttons are properly closed and straighten out other details like the collar, shirt tuck, and fabric folds.
Adaptive clothing with velcro closures or magnetic snap buttons is ideal for older people with dexterity issues. Comfortable clothing for seniors also makes it easier for caregivers to help with dressing and undressing. Avoid outfits that are too tight and fabrics that aren’t stretchy.
When helping an older adult get dressed, it is best to go in the order of underwear, pants, and shirt. Finish with outerwear and accessories. This order is flexible, depending on which works best for you and your loved one.
Amie Clark, BSW
Aging Advocate and Senior Care Expert
Amie has worked with older adults and their families for the past twenty-plus years of her career. Her senior care knowledge is based on her experience as a social worker, family caregiver, and senior care consultant. Learn more about Amie here.