How to bathe comfortably during rehab

Bathing isn’t just a function of daily life to keep us clean and smelling nice; it’s the moment in the day we regain our thoughts and relax. Why should this be any different for someone in the midst of physical rehabilitation due to a condition or injury?
Roll-InBuddy XL SB6c-22 in front of shower

Our bathing ritual should be a relaxing experience

It’s our view that it shouldn’t be any different. In fact, a big part of our mission at Showerbuddy has always been to give this enjoyment of bathing back to the mobility impaired community. In combination with good OT and support systems, our range has supported thousands of people across the globe to once again enjoy bathing.

But enjoyment when coping with a serious injury is much easier said than done. How can support people and individuals with mobility impairment themselves take the right steps to enable pleasant bathing? We cover this in our guide.

Mobility limits

Understanding the limits of your mobility

While your physical therapist will be making sure that attitudes toward the injury and recovery process are kept positive and optimistic (for good reason!), setting realistic goals at each stage of recovery is important to keep expectations realistic.

Bathing with complete bodily control requires a reasonably advanced degree of mobility. Instead, work with your occupational or physical therapist to properly understand where your mobility level is today. They are best to determine this, applying a range of assessment and observation criteria. The outcome of this step will allow you to plan bathing appropriately. For example, your mobility level may allow you to wash your own upper body and head, but require a seated position in a shower chair, along with assistance to wash lower legs and feet. Having the answers to these questions means that the bathing routine can have dedicated stages of personal bathing, with help only coming in when needed.

Getting help from the occupational and physical therapist

The OT and PT are experts in understanding your specific situation, bathroom and best way forward to deal with this. It’s important to keep an open dialogue with these roles, as they can not only suggest an approach to bathing comfortably, but hear your own wishes and consider these as part of the programme they build.

What are the injury’s limitations at each stage of rehabilitation?

Knowing the likely path through recovery is sometimes useful to contextualise and cope with the existing degree of mobility. With an injury or non-permanent mobility restriction, having a clear view of the next ‘milestone’ is useful for individuals who may be unhappy with their reliance upon support people or equipment currently. It can also provide good motivation to stick with the rehabilitation programme – progress here unlocks more independence in the moments that matter most.

WIth a clear view from your health providers as to the limitations (and ability) you’ll have throughout, there’s a better sense of what comfortably bathing might look like today – and in the future.

Transfer planning

Establish a transferring plan

As with other parts of daily life as someone going through physical rehabilitation, the transition between one position and another is sometimes the most daunting part of all. Transferring in a bathroom into the shower or bathtub unit has been a source of much anxiety for families and individuals. The comfort of bathing shouldn’t just start and finish with the user inside the shower area, but extend to their preparation, entering and exiting the shower as well.

Transfer plans will be based upon your own mobility level and what the OT or PT believes is safest for you. With that said, there are some considerations that will typically be part of this:

  • Who will help the individual transfer into and out of the bath/shower area?
  • What sort of shower format is in the bathroom?
  • Would the individual benefit from a full transfer system?
  • Does the support person have the ability to carry the user safely if required?
  • If using assistive equipment, when and how will they get into or out of this equipment?

Transfer plans are a key part of the bathroom programme for someone with a physical impairment. Virtually every serious injury will impede safe transfers into and out of a bathtub or shower, so it’s important the transfer plan is through and well-considered.

Declutter and tidy

Eco Traveller SB7e folded down for transportation

Clear the bath or shower area from clutter

Are you living in a home shared by a family, possibly with some kids who bring toys into the bathtub or shower? Comfortable bathing experiences benefit greatly from a minimal, uncluttered space, so a support person or family member will want to clear out prior to bathing.

Luckily with systems like the Showerbuddy, the non-destructive installation enables both impaired and non-impaired family members to use the same bathroom each day without too much hassle.

Clutter also means shampoos, soaps and body wash that may be hanging from a wall mounted holder that could reduce the space in which you can bathe. These items can be added back into the mix once the level of upper body movement is such that these can be reached for, grabbed, used and replaced when done.

Comfort and support

Eco Traveller SB7e folded down for transportation

Determine the most comfortable body position

Body position plays an important role in comfortable bathing. The upright seated position may not work well for someone with an injury that places pressure on the spine or neck. The physical impairment may affect core strength required for practical upright seated positions.

For those who experience these types of challenges, a tilted back position with good neck and back support can remove pressure and regain some comfort during bathing. Some users may still be able to conduct some self-cleaning in this position, while others in this stage may require assistance from a carer.

Preferred body positions can come in many different forms depending on the injury. For example, some users may find one foot higher than the other makes for a better experience. Or perhaps the injury demands more help to stay in place from the help of lap and chest bands. The OT will help determine what mixture of equipment and body position will enable the most comfort – often trialling an approach before adjusting it based on the individual’s feedback.

Make use of bathroom support equipment

Equipment is a huge part of making bathing during physical rehabilitation pleasant. With a day that will require some degree of focused physical rehab, it’s a lot to ask for individuals to strain and struggle while bathing, too. Bathroom equipment, whether it’s grab bars, mats, chairs or transfer benches, are all designed to make life easier for the individual and support person. A good piece of assistive technology in the bathroom will allow more comfort and freedom, rather than demand the individual adjust their preferences to suit the equipment.

Routine and carer support

Keep to a routine that allows some privacy

Routines are part of all of our lives – even if we don’t consciously recognise this. Bathroom routines are possibly some of the most fixed in our lives. When a sudden injury or condition changes all of this, it can be really hard to feel like we’ve got any privacy at all.

In collaboration with the occupational therapist, plan a routine that affords privacy during bathing – even if this is simply a period of time in which the individual can sit and enjoy the warm stream of water. With the massive adjustment that comes along with recovering from a significant injury, these micro-moments of privacy and solitude will make a difference.

As movement is relearned and strength regained, there can be more moments of privacy, including bathing oneself without input from another person.

Get help from a carer

Carers are there to make the bathing process more comfortable. While it may take some time to build up a level of trust and confidence, this relationship between the individual and their carer can help to meet needs around comfort in the shower each day. For example, there may be requests to adjust body position throughout the bathing process, help wash hair, grab shower products or fetch a towel. The carer is also there to help facilitate safe moments of privacy mentioned above.

The carer relationship can be a complex one. It’s not always the closest family member that should automatically get this job. In fact the individual and OT may decide that it’s in the best interests of maintaining existing relationships to opt for a 3rd party home carer whose only role in the individual’s life is to offer physical assistance.

Reduce risk of scolding

Protect users from accidental scolding or cold temperatures

Comfort has plenty in common with safety when we’re talking about bathroom use. A shower tap’s temperature setting may by default allow very hot or very cold temperatures, but in a household with a physically injured person, it’s worth taking the steps to reduce risks like scolding. You can speak with an OT about the best way to keep shower temperatures limited to only comfortable levels and then engage a plumber similar qualified professional to adjust your shower or hot water cylinder accordingly.

When going through a process of evolving levels of mobility, there can be moments where attempted movements aren’t executed quite properly; knocking a tap across to a very hot setting without the dexterity to quickly adjust it back presents a burning risk. Best to avoid it altogether!

More Info

The information in this guide 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.

More information about this topic:

You can find useful information about this topic across the web via the following excellent online resources:

Helpful Guides

Learn more in these related guides: 

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