Is A Lack Of Personal Hygiene A Sign Of Dementia ?
As your parents get older you may be finding that they aren’t seeming to bathe very often, or that their clothes are, well, a bit wiffy. Or, perhaps you are their caregiver, and you know that they are bathing less, or are really resisting bathing very often.
A lack of personal hygiene can be one of the signs of dementia, but there are also lots of other possible answers as to why your elderly loved one may have a lack of personal hygiene. One sign alone doesn’t mean that they suffer with dementia.
What do I mean by personal hygiene ?
In general personal hygiene will cover these areas –
- bathing and showering
- washing and cutting hair
- hand and foot care – pedicure and manicure
- mouth and teeth
- washing and changing of dirty clothes
- handling of food – washing of hands
What are some of the possible reasons for a parent’s lack of personal hygiene ?
Bathing and doing frequent laundries may be to expensive for elderly parents with a small budget, so they may have to cut back on how frequently they do both to reduce their expenses.
Only so many hours in the day
Our loved ones slow down a lot as they age, and it becomes very hard to do all the things that need to be done.
Our parents have to prioritize what they feel needs to be done first, and personal hygiene may not be as important to them, as some other pressing jobs, so it gets put off for a day or so.
I hear my 90 yr old mom sighing about once every 30 seconds, and when I ask what’s wrong, she always say’s that she has no energy. And with the loss of energy comes a lack of motivation.
If your loved one lives alone, is mostly sedentary, and possibly suffering from mobility issues, they may have even less energy to spend on their personal hygiene.
This lack of energy means that, again, only so many things can get done.
Disturbed sleeping patterns
Sleep patterns change as people age. It can be harder for seniors to get to sleep, and then they may wake up more frequently during the night, as their sleep is not as deep as when they were younger.
To compound the problem further, seniors frequently need to get up to urinate, suffer from conditions which cause pain and anxiety, and may be taking medications which can play with their sleep as well.
My 90 yr old mom had a very bad hip, which before her hip replacement, would wake her about 5 times a night in pain.
This coupled with Nocturia (waking because of the need to urinate) meant that she was waking 6-8 times a night.
As you can imagine my mom was shattered the next day, and motivating her to do anything was nigh on impossible.
Our elderly parents feel the cold much more easily than we do, and they may not be bathing so much as they catch cold when they get wet.
The bathroom is the most dangerous place in the house for falls, so if you have mobility issues, are unsteady on your feet, and in pain, the bathroom is a scary place.
If you have noticed that your mom, or dad, is getting wary of an accident in the bathroom, you may benefit from taking a look at my article about making the bathroom a safer place –
Loss of dignity
Your loved one may know that they require assistance with bathing and other aspects of their personal hygiene, but they can’t bring themselves to ask you as they feel it is undignified to have to be helped.
Pain and Loss of mobility
Any conditions which cause pain and a loss of mobility, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, knee and hip complaints, will make washing, getting in and out of the bathtub or the shower very difficult.
These difficulties can be what discourages your loved one from taking more of an interest in their personal hygiene.
People who are depressed will lose interest in activities and hobbies, in which they once engaged with delight, and very often in the own personal hygiene.
Seniors, like us all, are not immune to such health issues, and depression can be a reaction to medications that they may be taking for age related illnesses, or the result of growing older and more isolated.
Lots of seniors will suffer, to some extent, from some memory loss – mostly short term memory – and will simply forget to do those tasks they have always done.
You can easily solve this by making routines and schedules that are put on charts, and your parents can fill them out as they do the tasks.
They will easily be able to see if they have forgotten to wash, shave, or brush their teeth.
Fear of losing control
Some elderly parents, no matter how gently you approach the issue of personal hygiene, will persist in not bathing etc.
Sometimes this can be put down to a fear of losing control.
Your loved one may just feel that their independence is being threatened, and that it’s going to be a pretext to greater losses in their independence.
Sight and hearing difficulties
Problems with sight and hearing can cause your loved one to to take so much more time to make their way through their daily tasks, that there isn’t enough time to get everything done.
The bathroom will also become a far more risky environment if your loved one has problems with their vision.
Loss of sense of smell
As our parents get older their senses dull to varying degrees, and some will lose some for their sense of smell, and unfortunately may be unaware that their body odor has become a little over powering.
How do I approach my parent about their lack of personal hygiene ?
You may find discussing personal hygiene with your parents, but can’t be shied away from, and you need to find some tactful way of letting them know that they may need to take care of themselves a bit more.
It is a good idea to not bring attention to stains on their clothes, as this will just embarrass them.
If you are struggling to find a way to broach the subject which won’t embarrass your parent, try going at it indirectly.
You can start by saying you were in the bathroom, and you wondered if your parent still felt okay using the tub or the shower, and if not is there anything you could do to help with that.
You can also just say that you would like to get them a better bathtub as you think theirs is a bit unsafe for them.
If you know that they have a real mobility issue, you can just say you feel it is time if they agree that some safety equipment was fitted for the shower, bath sink or toilet.
If your mom, or dad, has their washing machine etc in their basement, you can simply say that you would like to help them with the washing as the stairs may be getting too much for them.
Once you have the broached the subject, as long as you go tactfully and respectfully you should find out what the barriers are to your parent taking proper care of themselves
If you find that your loved one wants your help with bathing, and other areas of their care, you can try and make it fun. Spoil them a little with some luxurious products and keep it fun.
Just remember that you are there to support them, and try to keep the tone very positive.
Make it very clear that you are there to support them in maintaining their independence in their own home, and not to take control or interfere.
What are signs of dementia I should look for, other than personal hygiene ?
Your loved one may find it difficult to recall facts that they have just learned.
You may find they are using memory aids to keep track of things.
Most people will, as they age, forget stuff more frequently, but if their memory loss is only age related they should be able to recall them later.
Agitation and mood swings
Someone who is suffering form dementia can have rapid and unprovoked mood swings, accompanied with pacing around and other agitated behavior.
This is also sometimes accompanied with the person becoming fixated on certain details of something.
Making bad decisions
An early sign of dementia is a display of impaired judgement, and it is particularly apparent when the individual has always shown sound judgement.
They may give away money to sales people, refuse to pay bills without cause, and make decisions which to you seem very irrational.
Problems dealing with money
Dealing with abstract concepts will become more difficult, so dealing with money and numbers may become a very difficult.
Can’t do familiar tasks
All at once someone with dementia may no longer know how to make their favorite meal, boil some water, or even play a game they love.
Can’t do planning or solve problems
With dementia planning can become difficult, and a task as simple as writing up a grocery list may no longer be possible.
If your start to regularly find objects in strange places i.e. the car keys in the fridge, it is usually a good indicator of dementia.
Confusion with time and dates
Getting lost and not knowing where you are, or where you live, losing track of dates, times and seasons are all signs of dementia.
One aspect of this is that the perception of time is different, and the person with dementia may feel 5 minutes to have been 5 hours, and it leads to a lot of confusion.
A person with dementia may stop speaking in mid sentence because they forget what they were saying, or keep using the wrong words when they speak.
This is one of the classic signs of dementia, where people wander off at any time not knowing where they are, and becoming completely lost.
Repetetive speech or actions
Sufferers from dementia may repeatedly say the same things again, and again, or keep doing the same activities.
It’s believed to be related to boredom or anxiety.
Visual and spatial relationships
Often a person with dementia will not recognize themselves in a mirror.
If they have food on a plate they may not be able to differentiate between the two, which may be linked to a problem with judging distances and spaces.
Can’t recognize people
Not recognizing family and friends is another common indicator of dementia.
Seemingly purpoeless activities
If your loved one keeps engaging in acts which seem to have no purpose, like opening and closing drawings, or filling and emptying suitcases, these may be signs of a form of dementia.
If an individual withdraws from activities with others this again may be a sign of dementia. Their lack of participation, and showing no interest may be down to confusion and difficulty with speech.
Loss of motor skills
Very often as dementia develops the sufferer will lose their motor skills, and tasks such as using eating utensils, buttoning and unbuttoning clothing will either be a struggle, or not possible any more.
If your loved one is showing a loss of interest, initiative and motivation to do anything, these can be signs of dementia.
With dementia choosing what to wear can become a problem, and eventually a person may even forget how to dress.
Sufferers may forget to eat their meals altogether, or they may eat, then forgetting they just had a meal, they will eat another. Eventually they may forget how to eat.
If your loved one exhibits very inappropriate behavior, or starts to act oddly, and not realizing that it’s not appropriate, these may be signs of dementia.
Delusions and paranoia
Often at some stage dementia sufferers may start to hallucinate, to hear and see things that aren’t there, and to become very suspicious of those around them.
Verbally and physically aggressive
If your loved one starts to become suddenly verbally or physically aggressive, shouting, swearing and pushing, these can be signs of dementia.
People suffering from dementia can get very restless at night time and not be able to sleep. There can be confusion between dreams and reality, which can leads to the person becoming anxious, agitated and disorientated.
Some people with dementia, towards the end of the day in particular, latch on to a certain person and start to follow them where ever they go, much like a small child might do.
Source : CBS NEWS – Alzheimers: 25 Signs Never To Ignore
Do I need to check with their doctor ?
if you suspect that your loved one may be suffering with dementia , it may be time to consult with their doctor to get some advice on your path forwards.
It may be the case that you are simply not equipped for the task, and that the doctor has other ideas that will help.
The doctor may recommend assisted living, or some other specialized arrangement as being necessary.
Go slowly when you try to find out why your loved one isn’t keeping up with their personal hygiene, and let them know that you are supporting them in maintaining their independence, and that you are not trying to take it away from them.
As I have tried to show, there can be very many reasons for a lack of personal hygiene with an elderly parent, and that it can be a sign of many things, as well as one of the signs of dementia.
I’m Gareth and I’m the owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.
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