• bathing;
  • disability;
  • activities of daily living;
  • geriatric epidemiology

Objectives: To identify the specific bathing subtasks that are affected in community-living-older persons with bathing disability and to determine the self-reported reasons for bathing disability.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: General community of greater New Haven, Connecticut.

Participants: A total of 626 community-living persons, aged 73 and older, who completed a comprehensive assessment, including a detailed evaluation of bathing disability.

Measurements: Trained research nurses assessed bathing disability (defined as requiring personal assistance or having difficulty washing and drying the whole body), the specific bathing subtasks that were affected, and the main reasons (up to three) for bathing disability.

Results: Disability in bathing was present in 195 (31%) participants; of these, 97 required personal assistance (i.e., dependence), and 98 had difficulty bathing. Participants with bathing disability reported a mean±standard deviation of 4.0±2.4 affected subtasks. The prevalence rate of disability for the eight prespecified bathing subtasks ranged from 25% for taking off clothes to 75% for leaving the bathing position. The majority of participants (59%) provided more than one reason for bathing disability. The most common reasons cited by participants for their bathing disability were balance problems (28%), arthritic complaints (26%), and fall or fear of falling (23%).

Conclusion: For community-living older persons, disability in bathing is common, involves multiple subtasks, and is attributable to an array of physical and psychological problems. Preventive and restorative interventions for bathing disability will need to account for the inherent complexity of this essential activity of daily living.