When bathing an older adult, use gentle soaps that won't sting the eyes and can double as shampoo. You can also add lotions after bathing to avoid dry skin.
In a culture of bathing daily how often, really, should an elderly person bathe?
Once a week should be fine, according to eldercare consultant Carol Bradley Bursack of Fargo, N.D.
“A sponge bath is good between, but if you think back, decades ago everyone took a ‘weekly bath.’ They would all have thought us wacko for showering daily,” she writes. “For health issues, weekly showers should be fine, and if you think a sponge bath is needed that can help.”
People mostly bathe for odor and preventing it. The under arms and groin have glands that secrete thicker sweat, which mixes with bacteria on the skin surface, creating a strong odor.
That’s why another expert recommends daily cleaning of the face, and groin, under the breasts and skin folds, and the armpits. Full body bathing can happen less often, agrees Jennifer Serafin, a nurse practitioner in San Francisco. Skin tends to be drier and more fragile as you age. Frequent bathing can cause dry skin, itchy skin, and irritation, she writes.
When bathing an older adult, she recommends using gentle soaps that won't sting the eyes and can double as shampoo. You can also add lotions after bathing to avoid dry skin.
One exception may be people with dementia. Caregivers of seniors with dementia say it may be easier to bathe a senior every day because when bathing becomes part of the daily routine, they’re much less likely to resist.
Showering or bathing in the tub is the easiest way to clean a senior. But if a senior refuses or mobility is a problem, a sponge bath will work just as well.
Step-by-step instructions include gathering all your supplies and making sure your older adult is warm and covered up. Start from the face or head and move down the body, saving, the groin for last, since it’s the dirtiest. For warmth and privacy, uncover only the body part currently being washed.
Wipe one area at a time and change washcloths between sections so you’re not wiping with dirty cloths.
You can use waterless cleansers, bathing wipes, and no-rinse shampoos, although they usually leave a residue so wipe with a clean damp cloth after cleaning with them.
Cleaning the groin area after using the toilet helps prevent urinary tract infections. Older adults should be in the habit of using moist wipes after going to the toilet.
Adding an inexpensive bidet to the toilet is another way to keep the groin area clean.
Showering every day isn’t going to keep a senior any cleaner and may risk drying the skin, so stick with a bath, maybe two, every week. And make sure to use plenty of moisturizer afterwards.
February 23, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN