Over the last few years I have frequently helped my mom with washing her hair, and I noticed that it was needing less and less shampoo, it was getting less oily, and staying fluffy looking for longer. Naturally, I started to wonder if maybe we shouldn’t wash it so much. I decided to do some investigating, here’s what I found.
So, How often should the elderly wash their hair ? An elderly person doesn’t need to wash their hair more than once a week – as we get older our hair gets thinner, and the scalp more sensitive, so you don’t want to overdo it.
Getting groomed can give a really great boost
It’s important that your loved one feels happy with the way they look, it can increase their confidence, put that spring back in their step, and have a real effect on the way they engage with others.
Getting fixed up, having their hair washed and styled, it can completely change a person’s mood and energy levels. So if you see that your loved one may be not taking the time to wash their hair, or to groom themselves, maybe you can step in and ask if they need your help with anything.
It probably won’t take much to get them feeling good about themselves, and wanting to make the effort, if you give them a hand.
Make an occasion of washing and styling your parent’s hair ?
If your parent is able to go out, why not take them with you, and you can both get your hair done, and your loved one will get a breath of fresh air, see some people and have some fun.
If it’s your mom, you can go to the hair salon.
If it’s your dad, maybe he has a barber he has used for years, and he would like to get out to see the people there.
Afterwards, you can go show off a little and feel good about being freshly groomed and smartened up !
How to find out why mom or dad aren’t washing their hair so much anymore ?
A little tip
If your parent looks like they are not regularly washing their hair, but you don’t know how to ask, you can always say that you would like to take them out for a fun lunch, or afternoon, and would they like you to help them get made up. If they say yes, you will find out what they need help with as you go along.
If they say they don’t want to, you can ask them why, and slowly start to find out if they are having troubles with their grooming and personal hygiene.
What are the reasons for my elderly parent not washing their hair ?
There may be a number of reasons why your elderly loved ones may not be washing their hair, here are a few –
- isolation – are they unable to get to the shops to buy the hair products
- no transport – do they normally go to a hairdresser to get it done, but it’s too difficult
- fear – the risk of falling in the shower can make them use the shower much less frequently
- lack of flexibility and pain – are very common problem with seniors, and getting into the right position may be too difficult for them now also
- lack of dexterity or strength in their hands and fingers – this may make it too difficult for them to shampoo
- depression – if they are isolated and have lost interest in activities they once really enjoyed, or they have also lost interest in their appearance
- memory loss – are they suffering from memory loss and forgetting to do it
- cost – have they stopped doing their hair because of the cost of the products and the hot water
- catching cold – as we get older and the metabolism slows down we get cold very quickly – my father had problems with always getting cold when I showered him, and I had to use extra heaters
- not socializing – have they stopped going out and just don’t have it at the top of their list of things to do, as no one is going to see them
- lack of energy – fatigue is a real problem, and I see this stopping my mom from doing so many things – she just doesn’t have the energy to get everything done at 90 yrs old
- there’s only so much time in the day – as well as fatigue and a lack of energy, the elderly move much, much more slowly than they used to, and so necessarily they can’t get as much done in a day as they used to, and now only the very most important things to them are priorities
- loss of dignity – your loved one may well know, and want to have some help with washing their hair, but they may be feeling compromised as they feel that there is a loss of dignity involved – with both my parents we have found ways of getting around this, but it may be too difficult for some parents at first, and they just can’t ask
- sight and hearing losses – if your loved ones have visual or auditory conditions they may be greatly inhibited in what they can do, firstly from the standpoint of time as everything takes so much longer if you can’t see or hear properly, and secondly because they may well be justly frightened of having an accident due to their diminished capacities – my mother has eye conditions and hearing loss, and I know that it greatly slows her down, and also the changes in lighting can make her dizzy and prone to losing her balance for a moment or so, which is hardly very safe in a shower
- dementia – if your loved one is suffering from dementia this may cause them to forget, they may be confused, or even afraid of water
Does my mom or dad need help with their hair ?
With my father, I had to do all of his washing and shaving, as he was loosing his motor functions, and sometimes with my mom, if she’s a little tired I help her wash her hair so we can get her all happy and fluffy !
I know nothing about styling a woman’s hair, but it doesn’t really take much to see when someone is too tired to do it on their own, and shampooing is not exactly rocket science.
Before you do anything, you need to simply ask your parent if they would like a little help, or would they like to go to a salon, or a barber shop to get their hair done.
Go slowly, and don’t say that they look like they need a trip to the barber shop, as this may just offend them.
Men may also need help with shaving, hopefully your mothers don’t ! Seriously though, as men get older if they have arthritis shaving can be very difficult, and frankly being shaved is pretty nice.
If you see that your father is having difficulty shaving, I doubt that you can afford a barber shop visit every day, so I would just get an electric razor.
You need to ask your loved one what it is that you can help them with. Don’t take over, find out how you can help.
You are reinforcing their confidence and helping them maintain their independence.
- if it’s your mom, do they have a whole styling routine that they love, and which can really make them feel a lot better about themselves
- if they have a particular style, do they want to show you, so you can help them do it
- if you make it easier for them, do they want to try on their own
- can you do it for them
- do they like a regular cut
- do they want to go to a salon or a barber
- if they want to stay at home, should we just try something simple and cute, or handsome
- what’s the set-up – what do we need to get together to do the hair care
Washing an elderly person’s hair at home – General things to remember
Firstly, remember you are there to support your parent or loved one– start by asking exactly what they need help with, and don’t take over. Let them do anything they feel they can do for themselves. If your loved one wants t use the shower and just wants help with setting things out, then just do what they ask and then let them get on with it.
Set a routine – a fixed schedule makes everything easier when you are doing things for, or with, other people, and our parents are no different. Set a schedule that you can stick to and your mom, or dad, will appreciate it. The elderly are notoriously bad with change or surprises, so when you have them tell you when they would like to do it, they feel they are running the show – as you want them to !
Set it all out – (if you are doing the hair washing) before you start get it all set out the way your parent’s like it, so you aren’t left later trying to find things whilst they wait for you, and you don’t want them catching cold if they are bathing as well. Make sure you heat the room up, that you have extra towels, something to cover their eyes, or even a pair of goggles.
Does your loved one have a particular way of washing their hair – you need to ask your loved one how they like their hair washed. They may have done it a particular way for years, and most people’s hair has its own quirks, and they’ll have their ways of dealing with it. Men will probably be a lot simpler than women, as we tend to have far fewer styles !
What hair products do I need – your elderly parent will most likely have a range of products, or at least a shampoo they like to use, so consult with them and get the products that they like, and have found will do the job they way they want it done.
Is it a special shampoo – if your parent’s hair is thinning, or is dryer, and maybe finer with age, you may want to have a chat with them about getting a gentler shampoo, such as one for babies. You may also want to use a baby shampoo, as it shouldn’t sting if they get any in their eyes.
Is there a special position – you will need to find a position which is comfortable for them to have their hair washed, so let them guide you, and go very slowly and don’t use any brisk movements, as they won’t be able to keep up.
Are you washing their hair in a chair to make it easier ? – if your parent is suffering from arthritis or any other mobility issue, you can wash their hair in a seated position, either in a shower, or in a chair with a hair washing bowl on a chair table behind them.
Do they want you to do some styling ? – if you know a little about hair, or your loved one can show you how to do things, unless it’s too complex, it can be nice for them if you are able to do simple styling that they like, or have always done. How hard can curlers be ? Hmm……
Go slowly – the first few time you wash your parents’ hair you will both be nervous, so the best advice is to go slowly, speaking softly and slowly, and moving very slowly. If you go too fast, your loved ones may not hear you properly, or they may not be able to move quickly enough, and it will end in all parties being frustrated and not enjoying it all.
I know I had to learn to slow down a lot for my mom, as I went way too fast, and she would get very frustrated as she couldn’t hear me properly and didn’t realize what I was trying to do. In the end, you get there, and you learn what works for you both.
Break it down into easy steps – it is a good idea to break the process down into steps, and to say at each step what it is that you are about to do. This avoids any surprises and if your loved one wants to step in and take over, they can.
Try to let them do as much as they can – maybe they can’t wash their hair very easily, but they can do some cutting themselves, or curling, or setting it, without assistance. You are there to enable them and to give them positive support.
Don’t forget to heat the place up before you wash their hair – if your parent is bathing as well as having their hair washed, you need to heat up the bathroom, and I have found it very useful with my father in particular to have a towel bathrobe, to step into immediately, on hand. If your loved one is going to dry off in the bedroom, then they will appreciate it if you have turned up the heating there as well. Don’t forget how quickly and easily seniors feel the cold.
Check the water temperature – and ask them to check it after you have. Remember to test the water temperature somewhere other than on the hands, as they are used to being in hot water.
A no-rinse conditioner – this can make things a little easier as there is no need for a second rinsing.
Take all your cues from your loved one – remember to keep asking your mom, or dad, if things are going the way they want. Before you do each step, just ask them if they would like to take the lead and do it.
Non-rinse shampoo – if your loved one isn’t always up for the whole process of a full shampoo, you can sometimes use the shampoos that you don’t have to rinse out. They are a foam, and you just dry it off with a towel.
Keep it simple – don’t get ahead of yourselves and try and do things which are too elaborate at first, as this only leads to disappointment. You will learn, and in time you can try something a bit complicated.
How to wash an elderly person’s hair at the sink ?
To wash a person’s hair at a sink, it is best to have the person sit in a chair, facing away from the sink. And you will be washing their hair from the sides.
You will want to put a plastic cape or towels around the person’s neck and shoulders, to keep them dry during the washing.
You then place a “shower tray” around the person’s neck at the back and slightly over the shoulders.
The person then leans their head back onto the shower tray and any water will run off their head onto the shower tray, and on into the sink. The person does of course have to sitting higher than the level of the sink, otherwise any water will run the wrong way, i.e. down their neck and over their shoulders.
The shower trays can be inflatable, or solid, and come in lots of different shapes and sizes, but they basically all form a bridge between the person and the sink.
You can also use a hair funnel for washing hair at a sink.
How to wash an elderly person’s hair with a hair funnel ?
A hair funnel is a tool for washing hair in the upright position.
It is an open-top floppy plastic device with an elastic band and Velcro fastening which is placed around the head just below the hairline and fastened tightly.
It looks like a transparent crown with the hair sitting in it. The hair funnel sits on the head and the shoulder, holding the hair inside it.
The opposite end of the funnel away from the head has an opening which is placed in the sink and allows the water from washing to drain off.
This is ideal for people who cannot lean their head back bending their neck, as they can remain upright for the shampooing.
How to wash an elderly person’s hair in a chair ?
The first two methods of hair washing at the sink both take place seated in a chair, but there are other methods which do not involve a fixed sink.
The first method is to use a portable shampooing sink which is an adjustable sink on a stand.
The sink angle and height can both be adjusted to suit the situation.
The sink is attached to the stand and has a flexible plastic pipe which drains off water into any bucket that you care to use, or if you want to spend another $40 you can get a customized bucket with a lid.
To wash the person’s hair, you simply need to
- seat them in a chair
- cover them with a cap or towels – neck and shoulders
- slot the portable sink into place and adjust it to its position
- have the person lean back into position
- place a bucket to receive the water from the sink drain pipe
- now you are ready to wash their hair
Some people use jugs of water, some use a spray attachment from a nearby sink, and others use a bag filled with water hung up high to give them pressure.
The second method is washing hair without any sink at all, using a spray bottle and towels.
This is the cheapest method as you can use any spray bottle you can put water into, and other than shampoo and a cape or bin liner you have nothing else to buy.
You need –
- a bowl of warm water – large enough for a medium-sized wash cloth
- a spray bottle of warm water
- a cape, 0r bin liner with a hole for the head
- 2 or 3 wash cloths or hand towels
- a towel or two for drying the hair
- plastic drop sheet
To wash the hair –
Before you start with the person, you may want to put down some kind of drop sheet on the floor – especially if it is a slippery floor.
Sit the person who is being shampooed in a chair and cover them with a shampooing cape or trash bin liner with a hole cut out for the head.
You dampen the hair by spraying small amounts of water from the spray bottle, and shampoo using only a tiny amount of shampoo.
Rinse the hair by taking a wash cloth and soaking it in warm water, ringing out the excess water, and then sponging the hair with the wash cloth to remove the shampoo – you need to rinse out the wash cloth if it gets too full of soap.
If you think the hair is still a little dirty, repeat this a number of times until the hair feels clean – each time you sponge the hair with the drop cloth, you want to get fresh warm water, and make sure you have rinsed the soap out of the wash cloth. You may want to have several wash cloths, so you don’t have to keep rinsing out soap from the one cloth.
How to wash an elderly person’s hair in bed ?
To wash a person’s hair in bed, you first want to cover the area of the bed that can get wet with plastic and towels.
One of the easiest methods is to use an inflatable sink for shampooing in bed.
The sink is inflated and placed on the bed over the plastic and towels.
Because the sink is inflatable it is soft, a person can lay back and place their neck comfortably on the inflated rim.
It is entirely up to you if you wish to place a towel on the area of the sink rim where the head rests, or not, but in the beginning it may be a good idea until you are used to the routine.
Once you have the person in place, you can add the water as you wish and wash their hair, and then rinse.
Some sinks have a pipe which drains off the water and some don’t.
How often should an elderly person bathe ?
Not nearly as much as you would think ! A lot of nursing homes don’t wash the elderly more than twice a week.
The elderly have thinner skin, they produce fewer oils from their skin and, in general, aren’t involved in the kind of robust activity which has them dripping in sweat, so they don’t need to wash as much.
If your loved ones are incontinent then of course they need to be cleaned, dried, and supplied with a fresh change of disposable underwear, and a change of any clothing which got wet, to avoid infections.
Does your parent need help with their foot care ?
With foot care, you just need to wash them when your parents bathe, and then from time to time give to a Podiatrist to make sure everything is okay.
If you are helping your parent wash their feet, you want to go slowly, as toes are often arthritic, and it can be very painful if you start pulling on swollen toes and joints.
I always find it easiest to have my mother sit in a chair and to just place her feet in a bowl. I have her check the water, and then I wash her with a cloth. After the wash, you can either towel the feet lightly or dab them with a towel and then use a hair dryer set to cold.
Don’t put the hair dryer on anything other than cold, and do test it first on the inside of your arm (hands are not so sensitive to heat), as your loved one’s skin is probably very fragile and sensitive compared to yours.
You will also want to see if the skin on the sole of the feet isn’t cracking and getting too thick. You made need to file away some hard skin if it is building up too much, and also to use skin creams for foot care to keep the skin hydrated and soft.
Sometimes toenails can get very strange with age, thickening drastically, almost as if they are growing vertically, and this is definitely something that should be dealt with by a Podiatrist – don’t try to do this for your parent as it takes a lot of skill and attention to treat and cut the nails properly.
Does your father need help with a shaving ?
I have to say as a man, I love a good shave, and you feel so much cleaner and fresher afterwards. Now, it isn’t always possible to wet shave someone every day, and you may not really feel very comfortable doing that, especially if you are worried about cutting your loved one.
An electric razor is a good second-best option. I don’t like them too much, but if your dad has trouble with a wet shave, and you do too, then an electric razor will give your dad back his independence and that will make him feel better about himself and boost his confidence.
What about elderly dental hygiene ?
With dental hygiene, you need to make sure that your parent is making their visits to the dentist, and follow the routines that they suggest.
Unless your parent is severely handicapped, or has dementia, brushing their teeth is a simpler task than all the other aspects of personal hygiene.
If they aren’t remembering to brush their teeth, you will need to gently remind them.
I had to brush my father’s teeth for him, and it’s a bit strange at first, in terms of coordination, but you become more adept. You have to go slowly, so you don’t hurt their gums.
An electric toothbrush can make things easier for your parent, and a mouthwash can cut down on plaque as well.
In everything we do to help our parents, we are trying to support them in maintaining their independence, and I find the best way to do this is to take a back seat, and to have them guide us.
If we ask what it is they need us to do, our loved ones won’t feel like we are interfering, and they won’t put up barriers.
I hope this was helpful and that you all have a great time shampooing and grooming your loved ones ! Make it fun, and it goes much, much more easily.
I’m Gareth, the author and owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.