Assisting someone with daily living needs

Assisting someone with daily living needs

Daily living without assistance can be a challenge for many elderly people or persons in care, so providing practical care and assistance with daily living is an important element of caregiving.

Providing assistance with daily living activities for the elderly, or for someone in your care, is one of the most important responsibilities you have as a caregiver.

The following are some key daily living activities that make up the personal needs of the elderly and persons in your care.

Caregivers report that assisting someone to complete these tasks is easier when they understand how to help.

Assistance with bathing/showering and grooming

Bathing or showering is a personal activity. Try to allow the person you are caring for as much privacy and independence as possible during this activity. Minimizing how physically exposed a person is can help. You may wish to help a person wrap a towel around private body parts and clip it with a clothes pin (or Velcro tabs), or the person may prefer to wear a long, plastic apron in the tub or shower for additional privacy.

Keep in mind that even though a specific task may be done more quickly if you do it (for instance, assisting with grooming), you should try to let the person do things for him/herself whenever possible (and when they are safe). The person in your care may still be able to take a bath independently, and just need your help with washing his or her back. Remember to take your lead from the person you are caring for as to how much or how little to help out with daily living activities.

Bathing comfort and care

Try to make bathing a comfortable and enjoyable part of their daily activities.

  • Keep the bathroom as warm as possible and free of drafts.
  • Some people may enjoy music during bath time. Remember that, if you are plugging in a music player or radio, you should keep it away from water or the sink.
  • Perhaps a special scented potpourri can help create a comfortable bathing environment. Bath oils should be avoided, as they can make the tub slippery. Also, be cautious of any bathing products that may irritate the skin of the person in your care.

Tips for bathing and showering

  • A liquid soap dispenser makes it easy to apply soap with one hand onto a large sponge.
  • Adults with sensitive skin can use baby shampoo and wash, which are formulated to be mild and gentle on skin.
  • Try to prepare the bath or shower with all of the supplies you need before assisting the person to the bathroom.
  • Prevent falls by wiping away any excess water off the floor around the bathtub or shower stall.
  • Test the water temperature with your elbows and ask the person if the depth and temperature of bath water is okay.
  • Avoid getting shampoo and water in the eyes of the person you’re assisting by covering them with a dry cloth or a bath visor, which can be found in the children’s bathing section of a department store. Bath visors have a large hole at the top of the hat that you can pull the hair through for washing, but are flexible and waterproof to block shampoo and water from seeping onto their face.
  • Use a hand-held shower head attached to the faucet to make rinsing and hair washing much easier.

Bed bathing elderly and people in your care

Bathing someone in bed may be an appropriate option if the person you are caring for is unable to get in to a bath or shower. A bed bath is accomplished by filling a large bowl with water, prepared ahead of time. Test the water before washing to make sure it is not too hot. You may actually want to have two basins of water: one filled with some mild liquid soap for washing and another with clean water for rinsing.

It helps to have the wash cloths, soap and any cream you are using near the person’s bed, along with a comb and brush. The person’s change of clothing should also be close by. When you are bed bathing the elderly or a person in your care, wash one body part at a time with a sponge or washcloth, and keep the rest of the body covered with a warmed bed sheet or large, warm towel. Make sure to keep the room at a comfortable temperature.

Toileting activities

Toileting can be a very important part of caregiving. If the person you are caring for requires assistance with toileting, it may be uncomfortable for both of you. Try to be very matter-of-fact when talking about toileting activities (e.g. “Tony, is this a good spot to keep the bedpan?”). Also, try to keep the conversation light and normal, and provide toileting assistance in the same way you would provide any other kind of help.

A person needing assistance with toileting may feel a big loss of privacy and independence. You can help to keep a person’s dignity intact by allowing as much privacy as possible. For example, if someone is able to get to the toilet on their own, help them to do so and then leave the room, if possible, until you are called to help.

As you become more experienced with toileting assistance, you’ll become more skilled at things such as quick clean-ups, and it will become part of the regular routine, making it easier for you and the person you are caring for.

Here is some information on toileting assistance items and other tips caregivers may find helpful:

Using a bedpan or bedside urinal

There are different kinds of bedpans and it may take a few attempts with different styles until the most comfortable one is identified. To get a person onto a bedpan, ask them to lie on their back with their knees bent when you put the bedpan under the buttocks. The person can also roll to one side while you put the bedpan against the buttocks, and then have the person roll onto their back. Some people recommend putting baby powder at the top of the bedpan to help prevent the person’s skin from sticking to the bedpan.

It is important to clean the bedpan regularly with hot water and soap, and rinse the bedpan thoroughly each time you empty the contents (you can keep the bedpan odour-free by rinsing with cold water and baking soda).

TIP: Ensure that any damp skin is cleansed and properly dried after a person has used a bedpan. If not dried properly, damp skin can speed up the development of pressure ulcers or bedsores.

Bedsores are caused by constant pressure on the skin. The constant pressure damages the tissue underneath the skin, resulting in sores. Watch out for red areas of the skin that do not go away a few minutes after pressure has been removed and if noticed, report them to a health care provider.

Assistance with incontinence supplies

An incontinence pad (sometimes called a bed-pad) is a plastic pad you can place on the bed, directly under the person’s buttocks. Incontinence pads protect the person’s bed, and can be easily taken away and replaced when soiled. It is important that bed-pads are always fresh as soiled pads will be uncomfortable for the person and can cause skin irritation.

Incontinence pads can be disposable or reusable. Reusable bed-pads must be washed regularly, and you can store the pads in a tightly sealed container or plastic garbage bin until washing time. If you are using disposable bed-pads, make sure that when you put the pad in the garbage, it is brought outside immediately as soiled pads in or near the person’s room will create unpleasant odour in the living space.

Using plastic bed covering

A plastic bed cover (sometimes called mattress cover) can be found in many department stores in the bedding section. Plastic bed covers go under the bed sheets to protect the mattress.

Using adult diapers/adult briefs

Incontinence (loss of bladder and/or bowel control) is not only a problem for many who are aging. In fact, people who are ill, who have suffered an injury, who are in bed for extended periods, or who are receiving palliative care also frequently experience incontinence.

Adult incontinence products such as adult diapers (also called adult briefs) and underpants with pad pockets can help a person stay dry and stay more comfortable throughout the day and evening.

Adult plastic briefs also allow for some increased independence. The person can walk around, without having to worry about leaking through cotton undergarments. The choice of products will depend on the amount of incontinence being experienced. As with other incontinence products, it is very important to regularly change adult briefs or liners.


Providing assistance with daily living activities for the elderly, or for someone in your care, is one of the most important responsibilities you have as a caregiver. It can be challenging and you may feel awkward at times, but following the tips in this article will help to make things easier. Providing assistance with daily living needs ensures that the person in your care will feel clean, comfortable, and remain safe from potential health risks.




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