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Bathing Your Dad

Bathing Your Dad: A Step-by-Step Guide

By , Caring.com senior editor
100% helpful

Getting ready to help your dad bathe

Let's face it, giving your dad a bath isn't an easy thing for you or for him. Bathing is one of the most intimate kinds of personal care, second maybe only to diaper changing. You're likely to feel awkward, embarrassed, and self-conscious. Expect these feelings to be heightened if you're a daughter.Your dad feels all of these emotions, too, as well as helpless and vulnerable.

If you can afford to hire someone to provide this level of care, that's a big help. But for many families this expense is way outside the budget, especially if he needs help for months or years. So it falls to you.

Fortunately, there's a positive side to the job. Most people feel better when they're clean, revived, and refreshed. It's uplifting. To give this sensation to another person, especially to your parent, is rewarding. And it really does get easier with time as you learn routines that work for you.

Communicate with your father. One of the most powerful tools for making the bathing process go smoothly is communication. Touch base with your dad about the task. Ask about his preferences. Check in about his fears. This will help him feel respected and included at a time when he's losing a huge chunk of independence. Being unable to bathe oneself is a significant loss and can be depressing.

Be aware that this discussion can be awkward. Bathing is an extremely sensitive topic. No one likes to depend on someone else, let alone on their own child, for cleanliness. And when the child is of the opposite sex, it's doubly difficult. Expect your father to be unusually shy, antsy, irritable, or even resistant to the whole idea. People with dementia or Alzheimer's may even get combative because they're so terrified and confused.

Don't expect to be a pro from the start. "This is a trial and error kind of thing," says Jennifer Serafin, a geriatric nurse practitioner (GNP) for the Jewish Home for the Aged in San Francisco. "The first couple of times it might be awful. You may get more water over you than your parent. You're not a failure. Give yourself a break."

Understand what needs to be cleaned when. Your dad doesn't need a full head-to-toe body scrub daily, and in fact it can damage older skin, which tends to be dry and sensitive. Two or three times a week should be enough. But daily cleaning of the private areas and under skin folds is recommended. Briefer daily cleaning can be done with wipes or a warm washcloth. For efficiency, use bath time to shampoo your dad's hair, clean his teeth, and check his nails -- a sort of one-stop shop of grooming.

Before and during the bath, be as matter-of-fact as you can. Take an almost businesslike tone, discussing bathing as if it's a necessary medical procedure rather than a personal experience. Lay out the game plan briefly. Confer and run through the realities. "I know you'd like to take a shower by yourself, but the truth is you can't stand up well right now." "I know you'd prefer to wait a few days, but the doctor said you should bathe today."

Let him do what he can. Give your dad as much independence as he can handle. Simply handing him a washcloth goes a long way. "It gives him a sense of entitlement and occupies him so he's not as concerned about what you're doing," says Serafin.

Stick to familiar routines as much as possible. If your dad likes a certain kind of soap, use it. If he always showers in the mornings, aim for the same timing. "You try to do everything he'd do if he weren't sick. You want to make him feel like he's a whole person and not being forgotten," says Lisa Balestreri, a registered nurse and the owner of Complete Nursing Solutions, a home healthcare service in El Sobrante, California.