Some people prefer baths, others like showers. I think that, if you are caring for an elderly person, you should do your best to respect their preference. When my dad was 96, he qualified for a health aide who gave him a shower since a Visiting Nurse drew blood once a week. We purchased a waterproof bench for him to sit on. I tried to bathe Bea the same way. She wouldn’t hear of it. Bea is a soaking-for-hours-in-hot-water type of girl.
To give an elderly person a tub bath, one has to be creative. I would hold Bea’s hand as she gingerly stepped into the tub. I would start with the hot water from the faucet, then add pans of boiling water from the stove, as needed. Kneipp herbal bath salts made the bathroom, Bea, and everything else smell like an orange grove.
The tough part is getting the elderly person out. First I would position the bench half in, half out, near Bea’s feet. I would step in behind her, place my arms under her armpits, and gently pull up, heaving her frail body onto the edge of the tub. I bathed my mother this way for several years.
When Bea returned from Pleasant Bay, she wanted a bath. Sven and I half-carried her to the bathtub. The next week Bea developed a bedsore on her heel, so walking was out of the question. No more tub baths were possible. Now Lisa, her devoted health aide, gives Bea a bed bath once a week, remaining upbeat the whole time. Here is a description of Bea’s weekly bath:
Lisa enters the room with a basin of hot water and a cheery smile.
Lisa: “Have I got some hot water for you!”
Bea: (opening one eye) “Why do I want hot water?”
Lisa begins to work off Bea’s nightgown.
Bea: “Are you trying to kill me? Who says I need to wash?”
Lisa: “It’s something all people do.”
Bea: “Why is this being done to me?”
Lisa: “Because you’re special.”
Bea: “There’s nothing special about me.”
Lisa: “Yes, there is, Beatrice.”
Bea: “Beatrice. What a pretty name!”
Lisa puts a towel over Bea and removes her socks.
Bea: “Why are you taking off my socks?”
Lisa: “I’m going to wash your feet, too.”
Bea: “Oh, God!”
Lisa: “I have hot water for you.”
Bea: “You can keep it.”
Lisa helps Bea roll on one side and gently washes her back with a washcloth.
Lisa: “Are you ready for the hot water? There. How does that feel?”
Lisa: “I knew you’d like it.”
Lisa puts lotion all over Bea who continuously complains.
Bea: “I need a blanket. Please cover me up. I’m cold. Why are you doing this for me?” (etc.)
Lisa: “Because I enjoy you.”
Bea: “Well, as long as you get through it fast.”
The bath, however, is not over yet. Bea finally loses patience.
Bea: “If you don’t stop, I’ll pee in my bed.”
Lisa: “Almost done. Sandy is here. Remember Sandy? Who is Sandy?”
Bea: “My mother.”
Lisa: “And Nick. Remember Nick? Who is Nick?”
Bea: “My brother.”
Lisa: “Now, a little talc under your arms. What do you think about that?”
Bea: “I don’t think.”
Lisa: “You are going to get the toastiest of covers, my friend.”
Bea: “Let’s have it!”
Her bath over, Bea says an eloquent thank you with her eyes to Lisa and settles in for a nap.