Keeping older adults clean when they can no longer manage personal hygiene completely on their own is no fun for you -- or them. Your goal should be to preserve privacy and dignity, while also helping your loved one stay clean.
These three tools can make the job much simpler:
1. Wet wipes
Also known as baby wipes, these disposable washcloths are genius: They're always handy, quickly and easily pop up one at a time, stay moist, and clean the skin in a comfortable and nonthreatening way. A few whisks of a wet wipe and the person feels instantly better -- and is cleaner -- without the ordeals associated with a full shower or bath. As a substitute for several of the full cleanings in a week, you'll save time and hassle.
How can you encourage their use? Use them yourself, and make sure your loved one sees you. Say, "Wow, I'm feeling warm today," as you grab a wet wipe and rub it across the back of your neck or under your armpits. Mention that you use them after going to the bathroom, too. Modeling their use this way makes the cloths seem normal -- and not like a special product that's only for your loved one's use.
2. Hospital gowns
Being stripped naked and bathed by another person can make your loved one feel incredibly vulnerable. Staying partially covered up is a handy way to preserve modesty while you sponge-bathe only part of the body at a time. You can do this with towels, but they tend to slip and slide. And bathrobes make removing arms awkward.
A cotton hospital gown, on the other hand, is designed for easily popping out an arm or breast while keeping other parts covered. It's worth asking about bringing one home after a hospital stay or doctor visit (although you may be charged -- and you might find them hard to come by, since many doctor offices are switching to flimsy paper gowns). You can also find the gowns online or in hospital supply stores.
3. A TV or radio in the bathroom
What do electronics have to do with bathing? They distract! Anything that removes the focus from what's happening -- I'm dressed and you're not -- will help make bathing a loved one go more smoothly. Consider a small portable television mounted on the wall, like in fancy hotels. Or use a battery-powered laptop playing a video, if you have the counter space so it won't risk being knocked over. The easiest solution is a radio or an MP3 music device. Tune it to your loved one's favorite station, or make a special playlist you reserve just for bath time. The main concern is that no cords present a tripping hazard -- and that you keep the device safely away from water. Remove portable devices from the room after use.