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Caring for a bedridden senior often means helping them take care of daily activities we take for granted—tasks like grooming, brushing teeth and cleaning. Being bed-bound adds an extra layer of complexity to these once-simple tasks.
As you establish a routine with your loved one, keep in mind that patience is key. It’s easy for both you and your loved one to get frustrated, as tasks that once took minutes can take much longer. Your loved one also may keenly feel the loss of independence, so practice patience and don’t try to do too much all at one time.
If your senior is no longer able to use the bathtub or shower, you’ll need to establish a new routine to help keep their bodies clean. At a minimum, you’ll need to make sure their hands, face and genitals are washed daily.
Getting help with bathing can be a sensitive issue, so talk with your senior about how they want to handle these tasks. Allow them to do as much as they can themselves while also making sure they’re clean.
For full-body bathing, set aside a time once or twice a week to provide your loved one with a sponge bath. This keeps their bodies clean and prevents discomfort or infection while still protecting their fragile skin.
To give a sponge bath, use two basins of warm water: one for soapy water, the other for clean water for rinsing. Make sure you have several washcloths available so you can switch them out as they’re used.
Only remove clothing from the body part you’re currently washing. Use a washcloth to clean that body part, rinse and dry, and then replace the clothing. Pay close attention to areas that have folds in the skin.
Use one side of the washcloth for each area of the body, switching to a clean portion of the cloth or to a new washcloth with each new area.
Also, be sure to use bathtime to check for bedsores or other signs of skin irritation. For more detailed information on giving a sponge bath, check out this great reference.
Seniors can suffer from poor oral health due to age, medications and chronic illnesses, which makes it important not to neglect your loved one’s pearly whites.
Help your loved one brush their teeth at least once a day, but preferably twice a day. If your loved one has difficulty swallowing, use a minimal amount of toothpaste. You may need to experiment to find a comfortable position for both you and your loved one if they need help brushing their teeth.
Even if your loved one wears dentures, it’s important to brush their gums to keep them healthy. Also, be sure to keep their dentures clean.
Whether you’re brushing teeth or gums, use a soft toothbrush, especially if your senior is unable to tell you when they’re experiencing pain.
Keeping hair clean can be one of the most difficult tasks with a bedridden senior, as washing hair in bed can be a messy process. While it may seem most convenient to wash hair when you help with a sponge bath, doing both at the same time may be too taxing for your loved one. Consider making hair-washing an event of its own.
When thinking about how to maintain your loved one’s hair, consider the hairstyle itself. Longer hair will be harder to keep clean and looking nice. It can also get in the way of other tasks like bathing and eating.
Plan to wash your loved one’s hair no more than once a week. If you want to do it less frequently, consider using a dry shampoo between washes.
Be sure to brush or comb your loved one’s hair daily to keep it from becoming matted and tangled. Be gentle when combing and gently work out any knots or tangles.
Make arrangements for someone to come in periodically and cut your senior’s hair to keep it from becoming overgrown with split ends.
Sharp nails can be a danger to your loved one as they can scratch already fragile skin, but that isn’t the only reason to keep nails trimmed. Long nails can become ingrown and infected, causing serious health issues.
Keep an eye on your loved one’s fingernails and toenails, and trim them before they become too long. Nails should be kept even with – or just slightly longer than – the end of the finger or toe.
Be gentle when trimming nails, as it’s easy to move hands and feet into an awkward position when taking care of this task.
If your loved one is interested and engaged in their care, be sure to take their preferences into account when it comes to fingernails and toenails. Offer to provide a manicure and/or pedicure if your senior enjoys having their nails painted.
Shaving someone else can be difficult, messy and uncomfortable if you’re unsure how to undertake the task. However, for some bedridden seniors, being clean shaven is important to their health, as facial hair can be hard to keep clean.
If your senior is able to shave themselves, this is the best option. Help them by having all of the necessary items nearby, as well as a mirror set at an angle they can see.
If they need your help to shave, consider using an electric razor, as you’re less likely to cut your loved one with an electric razor. Hold the razor at a 90-degree angle from your loved one’s skin, and use back-and-forth motions to shave. Be sure to place a towel in your loved one’s lap to collect any hair that falls.
While grooming tasks may take longer than before, they’re important to your senior’s physical and mental well-being. And while these tasks may be time-consuming, look at it as a chance to spend time and interact with your loved one on a daily basis.
Lori Fairchild has spent the past 25 years writing and editing for a variety of businesses and publications across the United States. While juggling a busy freelance career, she has raised two daughters— and as someone involved in the care of aging parents, she understands the importance of accurate and useful information on aging well. She hopes that her work helps both seniors and their families to find the information they need to live healthy and whole.
From bathing to shaving, hygiene tips for a bedridden senior – Seniors Matter