Family members are often called upon to become the family caregiver for a loved one who is bedridden. Make no mistake about it, this can be a very difficult time for everyone. But how do you care for someone who is bedridden?
Caregiving for a bedridden loved one likely includes feeding them, and helping with personal hygiene tasks, such as bed baths, dental care, and toileting. Also, you likely must handle a slew of medical-related tasks, including administering medications and checking for pressure sores. Lastly, you need to keep them comfortable and entertained.
Importantly, realize you may, it might get to be too much to handle. So don’t be shy about asking for help. And realize that at some point, you might need professional help.
As daunting as this seems, there are things that you can do to make it much easier for you (as the caregiver) and for your loved one who very much needs your help.
How do you care for a bedridden person at home?
Certainly, it’s important to keep track of their needs. To make your life easier, make a list of required tasks. First, talk to your loved one’s doctor for a list of required medical-related tasks and their required frequency. Next, refer to this blog for other ideas of tasks to include.
After you estimate how much time each one will take, make a daily and/or weekly schedule. This will help you organize your responsibilities and make it easier to accomplish everything that must be done to care for someone who is bedridden.
Although there are countless tasks to perform when you care for someone who is bedridden, consider these tips for keeping your loved one safe, comfortable, and as happy as possible:
- Reduce the risk of bed sores. Regularly reposition your loved one and check their skin at least once a day to reduce the risk of bedsores and increase comfort. And frequent skin checks can help you find bedsores before they worsen.
- Take care when moving your loved one. Using slide sheets or a patient lift can make it easier to reposition and/or transfer your loved one to and from bed.
- Keep your loved one clean. Carefully clean your loved one with regular sponge baths and be thorough while cleaning after toileting and diaper changing.
- Keep the bed linens clean. This can be difficult if your loved one cannot move, but it’s important to keep the sheets clean.
- Use comfortable sheets, pillows, and blankets. Try to make the bed as comfortable as possible for your loved one.
- Keep them entertained. Importantly, have as many items as possible to keep your loved one entertained. And, of course, having visitors is wonderful.
These seem like simple things to do but they can take a little bit of planning to do them right. Read below for more details on these tips.
Avoiding bedsores (aka pressure ulcers).
Not many people realize how easy it is for people get bedsores when they are confined to a bed or wheelchair. Seniors, and bedridden patients of all ages, can get painful, sometimes dangerous, skin bruises, cuts, and scrapes, which can get infected.
There are several factors that contribute to the likelihood of bedsores among bedridden patients:
- Lying down or sitting in one position for too long can put a lot of pressure on any part of the body. After a while, the skin in that area can start to break down.
- People who are very thin may not have enough padding to protect vulnerable areas, increasing the risk of sores and cuts.
- When moving a bedridden person, it’s very easy to rub his/her skin against the sheets or scrape their skin against the toilet, chair, etc.
- Poor hydration makes the skin more susceptible to bedsores.
- Health conditions can also contribute to poor skin integrity, which can then make the bedridden person more prone to bedsores.
How can you help prevent bedsores?
The best way to avoid bedsores is by repositioning the body every two hours. I realize that repositioning your loved one every 2 hours is a very difficult task. However, that’s the recommended guideline to help keep a person’s blood supply flowing, which in turn, helps avoid bedsores. (Repositioning also helps prevent muscle soreness and cramping.)
Importantly, the possible “safe” positions for your loved one will depend on his/her health conditions, so ask the doctor for recommended positions.
Certainly, if your loved one is truly immobile, or is very heavy, you may need help repositioning him/her. In some cases, you may need help from another person and/or require the use of slide sheets or patient lifts (read below for more information on patient lifts).
Slide sheets make it easier to reposition your loved one.
You can place a slide sheet under your loved one to make it much easier to move him/her or roll him/her over. As the name implies, slide sheets are slippery, making it easier for you while reducing the risk of harming your loved one’s skin.
To learn how to use a slide sheet, you can ask for guidance from either a nurse (if your loved one is in the hospital), a visiting nurse or a health aide. And it can be very helpful to watch videos online. Try this video by Adaptive Equipment Corner, or search for “how to use slide sheets to move a bedridden patient”.
If you buy slide sheets (you can find them online), make sure to follow manufacturers’ guidelines on how to use them. And don’t leave the slide sheet on the bed when it’s not in use – your loved one could fall out of bed. Lastly, don’t leave a slide sheet on the floor – you could slip on it and fall.
Other steps to avoid pressure sores.
Importantly, conduct frequent skin checks to avoid bedsores, especially if your loved one has been bedridden for a long time. Check all parts of the body (especially pressure points) for skin lesions that can turn into sores. Notify your loved one’s doctor if you find worrisome spots. Better safe than sorry.
Additionally, it’s important to keep your bedridden loved one well fed and hydrated. Speak with your doctor or a nutritionist about the types of foods that can not only meet their nutritional needs but also help to protect their skin integrity.
Lastly, ask the doctor about any creams or products that can help you avoid bedsores. For instance, inflatable bed toppers and other specially designed bed-toppers can reduce pressure points. Additionally, wedge pillows can help your loved one remain comfortable in a variety of positions, and tailbone pillows can relieve pressure on the tailbone area.
Use care when moving immobile patients.
If your loved one is immobile, it can be difficult to reposition or move him/her to and from the bed. Not only could you harm your loved one trying to move him/her, but you could also hurt yourself.
In addition to using slide sheets, learn how to properly roll your loved one over by asking your nurse, occupational therapist, or by watching videos online.
Patient lifts can be a tremendous help.
Keep your loved one clean.
For overall body cleanliness, regularly clean your loved one’s body. Not only will bathing help your loved one feel better, but bathing can also improve blood circulation. Although good old fashioned sponge baths can get the job done, the water can make a mess. Consider these items that can make the job easier:
- No water, dry shampoos and conditioner caps. There are many products on the market you can use to shampoo and condition your loved one’s hair while he/she remains in bed. These no-rinse products are easy to use and very convenient. However, many of these products have been recalled after finding they contained benzene, a cancer-causing chemical. If you have concerns, talk to your loved one’s doctor and use your judgment before using these types of products.
- Rinse free bath sponges. These single use sponges make it easier and cleaner to give your loved one a “sponge bath”.
For tips on bathing bedridden patients, read this article.
Carefully clean after toileting and accidents.
Handheld urinals (for men) and bedside commodes can make toileting easier. However, many bedridden people need diapers and incontinence pads. If you use diapers and/or pads, it’s critical that you change them often to avoid prolonged contact between urine or feces and your loved one’s skin!
Additionally, proper cleaning of your loved one’s private parts is essential to avoid infections and other skin issues. Therefore, after toileting (including diaper changes, commode use, or “accidents”), clean his/her private parts thoroughly. There are gentle wipes designed for this purpose – and some caregivers find that using shaving cream makes it much easier to clean messy areas. And if your loved one has an occupational therapist, ask him/her for tips to make this process easier.
Don’t ignore oral care!
Proper oral care can make your loved one more comfortable and can reduce the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Brush your loved one’s teeth at least twice a day using either a smaller soft-brushed child-size toothbrush or disposable teeth cleaning sponges/swabs. Talk to your loved one’s dentist and follow the tips in this article.
And if your loved one has trouble swallowing, use a small amount of water and toothpaste, or switch to the cleaning sponges. Importantly, be sure to discuss any concerns regarding swallowing with the doctor.
Be on the lookout for skin problems.
It’s critical that you look out for pressure sores, red spots or any signs of infection when giving sponge baths and/or cleaning after toileting. If you see anything concerning, talk to your loved one’s doctor.
Maintain clean bed sheets.
Certainly, no one wants to lie on soiled sheets. But if you care for someone who is bedridden, chances are you will have to deal with soiled sheets.
Fortunately, there are products available that can make it easier to keep the sheets clean. For starters, using super absorbent adult diapers, and/or heavy absorbency incontinence pads can reduce the number of times you need to change the sheets. Additionally, a waterproof mattress protector can protect the mattress from bodily fluids. And if sheets become soiled, change them immediately.
If your loved one cannot get out of bed to allow you to change the sheets, even with your assistance, follow the instructions provided here.
How to handle soiled sheets.
If any feces or urine gets onto the bed sheets, wash them immediately using the steps below. Importantly, use disposable gloves for these steps:
- Remove as much feces as you can with a paper towel. Then place that paper towel in a plastic bag and discard the bag.
- Fill a bathtub (or large sink) with water. Add at least 1/4 cup of laundry detergent.
- Place the sheet in the water and agitate the water with your hands swooshing back and forth for about 10 minutes.
- Drain the bathtub or sink.
- Twist any remaining water from the sheets.
- Then put those sheets into your washing machine. If you want, pre-treat them with a stain remover.
- Wash the sheets in both detergent and chlorine bleach.
How to make a bedridden patient comfortable.
The best thing you can do for your loved one is to make them comfortable and relaxed while they’re in bed.
Here are some bedridden patient care products that are recommended by the folks at SeniorSafetyAdvice.com.
- Orthopedic support wedge pillows. These pillow sets contour to the body, making your loved one more comfortable in bed.
- Comfortable sheets and blankets. Use sheets that are as comfortable as possible and won’t irritate the skin. Consider bamboo sheets or 100% cotton sheets.
- Under mattress wedges. Place a wedge under the mattress to keep the head portion of the mattress in an elevated position.
- Leg or knee pillows. These pillows, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes, are great to elevate the legs. And, if positioned correctly, they can also relieve any pressure on your loved one’s heels.
- Adjustable height bed tables. These tables, like what you see in hospitals, are great for anyone who spends a lot of time in bed. Your loved one can place their food, drinks, books, games, etc. on this table.
- Hospital bed. Depending on the situation, you may need a hospital bed. You can position these adjustable beds to suit the needs of your loved one. Additionally, many of these beds can be raised to make it easier for you. Importantly, you may be able to receive a hospital bed for no charge through a hospice service or through your insurance (private or Medicare).
Consider adaptive clothing.
Because it can be difficult to dress and undress people who are bedridden and unable to move, I suggest you consider adaptive clothing. You can find shirts, pants, pajamas and undergarments that are specifically designed to make it easier for caregivers to dress and undress their bedridden loved one. Additionally, adaptive clothing can make it easier to access and change incontinence products.
For more information on adaptive clothing, as well as links to retailers where you can buy helpful items, read What is Adaptive Clothing? Who Needs it?
Keep your loved one entertained.
It’s great if you can have visitors, who can interact with your loved one and give you a bit of a break.
Importantly, providing stimulation on a regular basis can help alleviate the boredom and loneliness often associated with being bedridden. Choose activities that your loved one may find interesting and is within his/her capabilities.
if your bedridden loved one can participate in activities, either with others or on their own, it’s helpful to have plenty of supplies on hand. Some ideas for things to keep on hand:
- A computer or tablet
- Books, including audiobooks
- Activity books
- Arts and crafts supplies
- Notebooks for journaling
- Video games
- Movies and TV shows
- Photos to look through
Looking for video demonstrations?
When you care for someone who is bedridden, you may be responsible for a steady stream of caregiving tasks, some easier than others. And there are so many products available that could help you, but it can be hard to know what’s available and/or how to use each product. Fortunately, the folks at Adaptive Equipment Corner have hundreds of short videos to help you. You can search by topic or look through their playlists.
Certainly, you can also search for other videos available on YouTube.
Get advice from other caregivers.
Although you may feel isolated when you must care for someone who is bedridden, other caregivers can provide a wealth of helpful advice. So consider reaching out to other caregivers you know for tips. And you might find the Facebook’s Caregiver Support Group very helpful. You can connect with other caregivers who can offer support and practical advice on a wide range of caregiving topics. Note that you must ask the group administrator to join this group.
Need equipment you cannot afford?
In many cases, your loved one’s insurance (private or Medicare) or hospice provider will pay for a hospital bed or other adaptive equipment. However, if you cannot afford equipment that the insurance company or hospice will not pay for, you have a few options.
For starters, check with your local Area Council on Aging. Many of these agencies have “lending closets” that allow you to borrow equipment. Additionally, you may find inexpensive, or even free, items through your Church or Temple. Finally, you can try to find items by posting your needs on social media, or by searching on Facebook’s Marketplace or Craig’s List. However, use caution when arranging to receive goods from strangers you connect with online. Scammers and thieves can take advantage of you. If possible, try to meet in the parking lot of your local police department (call the police department first for advice).
There are many small tasks that must be done each day when care for someone who is bedridden. But with some planning and help from others, you can accomplish it successfully.
However, if you care for someone who is bedridden, the amount of work required can feel overwhelming – physically and emotionally. Therefore, I urge you to schedule time for yourself every day for your own physical and mental health.
NOTE: I updated this post on 11-22-22.