The Elderly and Bathing: A Short Guide

4 min read
by Israel Gamburd |

Each year, more than 230,000 Americans are injured in the bathroom, and up to 80% of falls in the home (among the elderly, specifically) occur in the bathroom.

This often leads to what some call the “the fall cycle,” in which elders experience a fall, then experienced a heightened fear of falling and so move about less; in turn, they lose mobility, strength, and flexibility, increasing their odds of experiencing another fall.

It is a vicious cycle with a positive feedback loop, making it all the more important that elders exhibit care and caution when bathing (and using the bathroom in general), and that caretakers observe a series of best practices for safety and comfort when bathing elderly patients.

With that said, this post will cover some tips, best practices, and other general insights related to elder care and bathing. Here are some things to know.

Issues That the Elderly Face When Bathing

On top of the fact that some elderly patients do not enjoy showering or are scared of falling, there are other risks involved.

One is that bathing too infrequently can increase the risk of skin infections and conditions like dermatitis neglecta. This makes routine bathing, usually once or twice a week, necessary to prevent these complications.

Tips for Successful and Safe Bathing

Safe bathing for seniors starts with being informed and prepared with the right information and equipment. Some of these suggestions should help.

Communicate, Respect Dignity and Privacy

The fear of falling is only one impediment to showering among elders. The elderly, especially those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, might have an irrational fear of drowning or of running water.

This makes communication and reassurance essential. A calm patient is a safer patient, and you as the caregiver, aid, or family member, can put their mind at ease by explaining why they should shower and that you’ll be there to help them.

In other cases, especially among more autonomous elders, it is equally important to respect dignity and privacy, both by not rushing the patient and by allowing them to shower in the manner and at the time preferred. This helps build trust, too.

Put Down Non-Slip Floor Mats Wherever It Makes Sense

Shower Chair for Elderly

One of the most helpful tips to improve shower safety is to place down non-slip floor mats in the shower and bathroom.

The shower floor itself can pose the greatest risk. Place down rubber mats or traction pads to increase confidence, diminish anxiety, and reduce the risk of a fall.

But it’s not just the shower floor that’s risky. There’s also a risk of fall on other tiled surfaces. Rubber mats and pads, or even bathroom carpet mats, can be placed down in tiled areas that lead to and from the shower, which will also help prevent the risk of falls.

Remove Clutter

Anything you actually need for the shower should be within arm’s reach (and off the floor). Everything else should be well organized in cabinets or on shelves, but never on the floor, especially around doorways. These are trip hazards.

Be Ready Before Bathing

Shower Chair for Elderly

Before the shower, prepare with anything you will need for it. This includes but is not limited to soap and shampoo, sponges or washcloths, and towels. Often, shower essentials are stored on hooks or racks; this is fine for an individual who can stand and reach them, but if you’re using a shower chair for elderly patients to reduce the risk of slips and falls, they’ll be out of reach. Whether you’re assisting with the shower or the senior will be in there alone, make sure he or she doesn’t need to stand to reach anything if using a shower chair or bath seat.

Comfort: Warming Up the Bathroom

If your senior patient hates the cold, reassure him or her that you will warm up the bathroom before they enter. Before entering, be ready with a dry towel, and be ready with one, if not two, to cover them the moment they are out.

Using an Appropriate Shower Chair for Elderly Patients

Shower Chair for Elderly

Using a transfer bench or a shower chair for elderly patients can also substantially improve the shower experience while counteracting the risk of falls.

Shower chairs for the elderly, like our ShowerGlyde systems (available in three configurations) are designed to accommodate a variety of bathroom configurations and the SG1, SG2 and SG3 can lock into place for extra security.

They allow for safer transfers of elderly patients, enabling them to shower while sitting, preventing the risk of falls. They’re also all configured with a grab bar on the interior (shower) side, improving autonomy and security.

On top of that, these transfer benches are easy to maintain, made of durable, corrosion resistant materials for a long lifespan, and are much more affordable than costly alternatives like bathroom remodels.

Use a Handheld Shower Wand

Shower Chair for Elderly

Most handheld shower wands are relatively easy to install and they allow for much greater flexibility and enjoyment of the bathing experience, especially when bathing sitting. Most are also available with a variety of pressure options or even massage functions, increasing the patient’s comfort.

Other Good Practices for Bathroom Use

Slips and falls don’t just happen when showering. Some other good practices to prevent slips and falls in the bathroom include:

  • Installing night lights in halls as well as in the bathroom.
  • Adjusting toilet seat height to prevent uncomfortable stooping that can lead to loss of balance.
  • Update the lighting if it is too dim. Modern LED lights offer excellent luminous efficiency and far superior energy-efficient (and thus lower costs) when compared to incandescents and halogens.
  • If the senior is semi-independent, enroll him or her in a medical alert system so that he or she can carry an alert wristlet or necklace, enabling a call for help with the push of a button if a fall does occur.

Safer Showering Starts Here

SolutionBased is proud to offer a variety of ShowerBuddy roll-in shower chairs and ShowerGlyde transfer benches, along with Refine shower stools and other essentials for elderly bathers, as well as for those with mobility or accessibility issues, and those living with disabilities.

If you have any questions about our products before buying, please feel free to contact us; our customer service team is more than happy to help.