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A Step-by-Step Guide to Shampooing an Older Adult's Hair

By , Caring.com senior editor
85% helpful

Four ways to wash someone's hair

It sounds easy enough: After all, everyone knows how to shampoo their own hair. But washing someone else's hair -- especially that of an older adult who's sick or frail and may be your parent or another relative -- isn't always a simple task.

Hiring a home healthcare provider to assist you (or at least show you some tips) can be a big help. When it comes to where to shampoo, you have four basic options: Sitting in a tub or shower, sitting at the sink, standing in a shower, or lying in bed.

Sitting in a tub or shower

The easiest way to shampoo someone's hair is to have him sit in the bathtub or on a bathing chair in a shower stall. If he already sits for bathing, it makes sense to wash his hair at the same time. Have plenty of clean, dry towels on hand to keep him warm.

Use a plastic cup or a rubber shower hose (available at medical supply and drug stores) to direct the water to his hair and scalp and away from his face. Lots of people are sensitive to the feel of water on their face, but it can be especially irritating to anyone who is unhealthy or has dementia, including Alzheimer's.

Sitting at the sink

If he doesn't want to have his hair washed in the tub, try a shampoo at the bathroom or kitchen sink. You can either have him face the sink and lean his head forward or have him sit facing away from the sink and lean his head back, just as they do at salons. Rinse with a cup or a small sink hose, sold at medical supply stores. In either position, he can keep his clothes on for warmth and comfort.

Leaning back is a good position for keeping his face dry. Cushion his neck well with towels or a waterproof pillow. You could also try using a special washing tray, sold at medical supply stores.

Standing in the shower

If the person you're caring for still showers on his own, make sure he's stable enough to shampoo his hair at the same time. Shampooing while standing requires good balance. If you think this may be iffy for him, offer to help by passing him supplies.

If he needs to hold on to railings or grips when he showers, he may not be able to shampoo safely without your help. You'll need to strike a balance between allowing him as much independence as possible and keeping him safe.

The person you're caring for may find a bath chair to be a perfect compromise. Once people with balance difficulties try a bath chair, they're often convinced because it feels so secure.

Lying in bed

If the person you're caring for is on bed rest and can't sit or stand for bathing, you can try having him lean his head over the side of the bed a little bit. Use a basin underneath and rinse with a cup.

Even better, home healthcare and medical supply stores sell inflatable basins just for bed-bath shampooing. Check online for basins and other bathing accessories.