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.
Clearly, if you are the caregiver for a bedridden loved one, 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 the list below for ideas. 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 from someone who is bedridden.
Importantly, realize you may, at some point, need professional help. Don’t be shy about asking for help.
In the meantime, the good news is that 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?
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 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 to a schedule. Schedules help with everything from toileting to medications to fighting loneliness and boredom.
- 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 cannot change positions by him/herself, helping him/her can present challenges, especially if your loved one is completely immobile and/or heavy. In some cases, repositioning can take two people 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.
You can buy slide sheets online – but be sure to follow manufacturers’ recommendations on how to use them. And don’t leave the slide sheet on the bed when you are not using it to move your loved one. Additionally, be careful where you leave a slide sheet when you’re not using it – if you leave it on the floor, you could slip on it and fall.
To learn how to use a slide sheet, you can ask for guidance from a nurse (if your loved one is in the hospital) or from a visiting nurse or health aide. You can also watch videos online – search for “how to use slide sheets to move a bedridden patient”.
Other steps to avoid pressure sores.
In addition to frequent repositioning, there are a few important steps you should take to reduce the risk of pressure sores.
Firstly, frequent skin checks are essential 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 keep bedsores at bay. 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, you will likely need help repositioning him/her and moving 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 and learning techniques to roll your loved one over, you might want to consider a patient lift device.
Patient lifts can be a tremendous help.
Maintain clean bed sheets.
Diapers and incontinence pads are often a necessity for people who are confined to bed. It’s essential that you change any diapers and pads as needed to avoid contact between urine or feces and your loved one’s skin! Additionally, if sheets become soiled, change them immediately.
Fortunately, there are products available that may make this process easier for you and your loved one. 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 bedside urinals (for men) and bedside commodes can make toileting easier.
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 contours to the body, making it more comfortable to stay 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.
- No water, dry shampoos and conditioner. Although these items look like shower caps, they contain no-rinse shampoo and conditioner, allowing you to wash and condition your loved one’s hair without a mess.
- Rinse free bath sponges. These single use sponges make it easier and cleaner to give your loved one a “sponge bath”.
- 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 (and other adaptive equipment) for no charge through a hospice service or through your insurance.
Keep to a schedule.
Certainly, when you care for a bedridden person, there is a lot to do! Making and keeping a schedule of caregiver tasks can help you make sure you accomplish all needed tasks every day, including following medication regimens. If you create a schedule on your computer, you can print out copies as needed.
But keeping to a consistent schedule can also help your loved one combat boredom and loneliness, a common problem for many bedridden people. When you’re bedridden, time can drag on and hours can seem like forever. So, keeping to a schedule as much as possible can help with that.
For example, if you always serve breakfast around 9:30 am, your loved one knows when to expect the meal, reducing or eliminating any concerns while watching the clock. Another suggestion is to set a consistent time when you, or a visitor, will spend time with your loved one – chatting, watching a movie, playing a game, or sharing another activity.
These are just 2 examples of how creating a schedule for things besides medications can help make the life of the bedridden person (and you) just a bit easier.
Keep your loved one entertained.
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.
Choose activities that your loved one may find interesting and is within his/her capabilities. Getting some kind of stimulation on a regular basis can help alleviate the boredom and loneliness often associated with being bedridden.
Some ideas for things to keep on hand:
- A computer or tablet
- Activity books
- Arts and crafts supplies
- Notebooks for journaling
- Video games
- Movies and TV shows
- Folding laundry
- Photos to look through
- Stamp collecting
There are many small tasks that must be done each day when it comes to caring for a bedridden individual. But with some planning and help from others, you can accomplish it successfully.
However, if you care for someone who is bedridden, you know the amount of work you do can be overwhelming – physically and emotionally. Therefore, I urge you to schedule time for yourself every day for your own health.