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Bathing a person regularly is an important way to help keep their skin healthy. It can help prevent infections, and it's a good time to check for sores or rashes.
The amount of help a person needs when bathing depends on how well they can move. You may be caring for someone who is unable to care for themself because they are recovering from an illness or a surgery. Or you may be taking care of a person who has memory problems and can't remember how to bathe. Or you could be caring for someone who has a long-term inability to move, such as a person who is paralyzed. This person may need much more help when bathing.
A person who has to stay in bed for a short time and who can move a little may be able to take a shower with some help. Or the person may prefer a partial bath at the sink or with a basin. A person who can't move well or who can't move at all needs a bed bath. This is often called a sponge bath, but face cloths are often used too. You can give a full bath in bed without getting the bed sheets wet.
How often a person bathes can depend on their condition and their wishes. If you can, try to let the person choose when they bathe. Younger people who have no problems with blood flow can bathe more often if they want to. Older adults may only want a bed bath a few times each week. Bathing more often may put the person at risk for skin problems, such as sores.
Let the person clean themself as much as possible. As you help to undress and bathe them, try to be as relaxed as possible. If you are calm and don't seem embarrassed, they may feel more comfortable.
To get ready to give someone a bed bath, start by gathering materials. You will need:
Ask the person if the room is too warm or too cool, and change the temperature if you can. Make sure that the bed is high enough so that you don't hurt your back. If it is low, it is okay to put your knee on the bed to reach over and bathe the person.
Place a waterproof mat or sheet under the person to keep the bed dry. And for privacy, make sure the door is shut and the blinds or drapes are closed.
When you help someone bathe you may have a chance to check the skin for redness or sores. Pay special attention to areas with creases, such as beneath the breasts or in the folds on the stomach. Also, look at the groin area and bony areas, such as the elbows and shoulders.
Start by filling two basins with warm water. Use the first basin for soaping up a face cloth and wringing it out. Use the second to hold clean water for rinsing the soap off. Use the back of your hand to test the water to make sure it's not too hot. You don't have to wear gloves, but it might be a good idea if the person has been vomiting or has had diarrhea. And it's a good idea to wear a mask if you or the person has an illness that can spread, such as a cold or influenza (flu).
When you are finished with the bath, apply an unscented body lotion to protect the skin and keep it from becoming dry. Don't put lotion on areas that can become moist, such as under the breasts or in the folds of the groin. Help the person as needed to finish dressing. Put away your supplies and wash your hands.
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Current as of: November 14, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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