Good personal hygiene enhances an elderly person's physical and mental well-being. Regular bathing in a tub or under a shower can keep skin clean and infection-free and inhibit the growth of bacteria. But elderly people have a decreased sensitivity to water temperature, making bathing a hazardous activity.
In younger people, a hot bath increases blood flow and oxygen supply to tissues while decreasing cardiac load. Dr. Ryutaru Takahashi of the Human Care Research Group has discovered that in the elderly, high-temperature bathing (above 5.56 degrees C Celsius) can have the opposite effect, especially if the temperature in the bathroom is colder than the water temperature. A lower room temperature causes blood vessels to shrink and blood to gather around major organs, such as the heart and brain. Sudden immersion into hot water may trigger cerebral or myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Blood pressure changes during bathing. A hot bath increases blood pressure but after four or five minutes of soaking, blood pressure decreases between 5 per cent and 30 per cent. Dr. Takahashi has also found that in the elderly blood pressure change is more dramatic and that standing up after bathing can cause fainting.
Research in Japan has shown that there are more bathing accidents than traffic accidents among the elderly. In analysing sudden-death accident figures, the Human Care Research Group found that females bathing in the morning in colder temperatures were more likely to suffer cardiac arrest than other groups. They suggest that vital rhythms such as blood pressure and body temperature are at their lowest in the morning and cannot withstand the temperature changes involved in bathing.
Iced water is often left for patients to drink at bedsides in hospitals and residential homes and is commonly known believed to lower oral temperature readings. A study by the American Geriatrics Society compared three age groups to calculate the amount of time temperature remained low. After ingesting iced water, the under-40 age group's temperature took 14 minutes to return to normal, but in the over-60 age group temperatures did not recover for a full half hour.
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