Bathing etiquette for mobility impaired people and their carers – Showerbuddy

Bathing etiquette for mobility impaired people and their carers

Bathing etiquette for mobility impaired people and their carers

Showerbuddy |

Few things in our daily lives are as personal as bathing. It’s our natural inclination to want this to be done alone – we wish to have total control over our personal hygiene and self-care, whilst also taking this moment to have some thinking time. Everyone deserves their dignity to be considered, regardless of whether they have a physical disability or not. It’s the job of everyone around them – and equipment providers like us – to come up with solutions to keep this dignity intact.
The problem that can sometimes arise is that the matter of bathroom use becomes a practical one, while the emotional, cultural and wellbeing considerations come after. Using the bathroom isn’t like the practicalities of transport to a doctor’s appointment or where one will eat their meals. It’s in our natural instincts to seek solitude and privacy away from everyone else whilst we’re using the toilet or taking a shower. Even someone who has relied upon external support for their entire lives with bathing will demand autonomy here. For those who’ve lived into their adult lives independently and suddenly have their mobility affected by a serious injury or illness, the adaptation to bathroom use can be traumatic. OTs and medical professionals understand this, and spend plenty of time ensuring this part of the plan is as good as possible to make things easier.


For anyone who has to care for a loved one or client during the bathroom routine, we can greatly help the individual by staying open minded and accommodating to the approach taken. It’s important not to get caught up on perfection instantly, but reassuring the individual that they can share their feedback and preferences to refine the bathroom process so they feel like they’re being respected.

In this article we’re going to talk about the idea of bathing etiquette – how can family, carer, OT and anyone else who helps an individual feel like bathing is something they’re in control of? Here’s just a few thoughts for our readers to ponder.

Determine what the bathing plan is ahead of time

Planning is a huge part of successful ongoing home care. Without a plan, the mobility impaired individual can feel like things are being made up and the decisions are potentially inconsiderate of their preferences. Planning also helps to mitigate any risks that may come up but walking through the process beforehand. Discovering these in a live bathing scenario may cause some stress to the individual and their carer.
Instead, work with the occupational therapist to discuss the whole bathing process – and the rest of the bathroom routine entirely. Find out from everyone involved what they need to make sure the process goes through smoothly.


First, it’s a priority to understand how the individual with the mobility challenges wishes their bathing to proceed. Doing so means that family or carer can start to plan with the OT what equipment is needed, and what functions they’ll ultimately need to provide.

The plan for bathing should be captured by the OT and everyone should be aware of how things will go, right from waking up through to exiting the bathroom to get dressed.

Preparing for bathing and undressing

The communication level of the mobility impaired individual can have a big bearing on how much this process is a matter of open dialogue and team work. For many, there is total cognitive function meaning that they’re able to ‘control’ the process of getting undressed for showering. Even if someone else is conducting the physical actions, the mentality shift becomes one of active participant vs. passive patient. Any control that can be placed back in the hands of the individual is a positive.
The location of undressing should also be established. Some may wish to do this in their bedroom before being moved into the bathroom via a wheelchair or bathroom mobility system. For crowded households, it may be in everyone’s best interests to defer this undressing until entering the bathroom. If this is the case, ensure the bathroom is adequately prepared for safe secure undressing (e.g. cleaning space, having an available laundry hamper for dirty clothes).

Allowing solo bathing as much as possible

Bathing alone is something many of our Showerbuddy users take a lot of joy in. But it’s actually an important component of feeling like bathing is an independent process to an extent.
There are many people with physical impairments who may not be able to stabilise themselves, stand or manually get into the shower alone, but have complete upper body dexterity and strength to enjoy a warm shower, use soap, wash their hair and face and any other typical activity one does in the shower. In these moments, a carer or loved one may be able to exit the bathroom (whilst staying within earshot) and leave their client/loved one to it.


Imagine the difference between bathing in front of someone else, vs. having that 5 or so minutes to yourself to enjoy a warm shower. We think everyone deserves that, and if it’s possible – it should be part of the plan if the individual wishes!

Of course, in all these situations, it’s important to defer ultimately to the occupational therapist’s expertise. If they deem it a risk to the personal safety of the mobility impaired person to bathe alone, there may need to be another plan in place – does the equipment need to be upgraded, can other parts of the process be done alone? It’s the OT’s job to find answers to these questions and guide families accordingly.

High communication around bathing

Communication is everything when it comes to the dynamic between a carer and a disabled person.
Of course how communication is managed depends on the user – a child will need to be worked with differently to an adult. A person with a mental disability may need a certain set of techniques to communicate. This is something that families need not establish their own, but lean on the help of medical professionals and therapists for.


If the individual is 100% communicative with no barriers, then achieving good bathroom etiquette is much easier. They can adjust the routine as they see fit or ask for help should they need.

Leaving the individual alone for toilet use if possible

Perhaps one of the last things anyone wants to be watched doing is using the toilet. Having respect for a mobility impaired person extends to supporting them to keep privacy and dignity when on the toilet.
How much this is possible often depends on the quality of the assistive equipment in place. For example, a Showerbuddy system fits perfectly over most standard toilets and together with armrests and other features, allows many users for toileting without the help of another person until clean up.

Protecting modesty when transferring between bathroom and bedroom

We must stay acutely aware that someone with a loss of mobility doesn’t suddenly lose their desire for modesty and discretion. Having the journey from the bathroom and bedroom with appropriate cover is a must as default, unless the user determines otherwise.
This can be as straightforward as drying and covering the individual with a towel before exiting the bathroom. Some may even wish to be dressed partially or entirely in the bathroom. Ultimately if it’s practical from a daily care perspective, the wishes of the individual should be adhered to. Never assume that because it’s easier waiting until the bedroom to dress that transporting the individual unclothed is alright by them.

Using equipment that can provide more dignity for individuals

Assistive technology really is a cornerstone of dignified bathing.
It removes the reliance upon a person to carry, stabilise, bathe and transfer, and places these duties onto technology. In other words, the individual with mobility challenges can rely less on those around them, and more on the tools designed specifically to do just that.

Further reading

Enjoyed this article? You may be interested in these resources online:

The information in this article is intended as general information only and is not a replacement for official health guidance by your local medical providers. Please always consult an occupational therapist and/or local healthcare for more specific guidance.