Inability to bathe may signal additional problems to come

Kathleen E. Czekanski
Kathleen E. Czekanski

Bathing disability is a “sentinel” event in the disabling process, one that deserves more attention as nurses and other long-term care staff seek to alleviate the associated emotional and physical discomforts.

Such are the findings of a multi-study review conducted by Zane Robinson Wolf, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, and Kathleen E. Czekanski, Ph.D., RN, CNE, of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at LaSalle University. The researchers found that a patient's inability to bathe himself or herself was a major factor in admission to a long-term care facility and a harbinger of further decline — more so for those with dementia.

The researchers found several strategies were effective in improving bathing outcomes. Those include occupational therapy and person-centered care. (See pages 46-48 for more on the topic.) 

Though some caregivers are tempted to rush the job when challenged, the authors say a calm, careful approach is more likely to work. They suggest interviewing patients and their families about bathing preferences, ensuring privacy, playing music or engaging in friendly conversation and adapting equipment as needed.

“Because of the seriousness of this loss of ability, nurses must implement interventions to assist patients to accomplish self-bathing tasks to the highest level of their ability,” the study concludes