What Is Personal Care For The Elderly ?


I have been the caregiver for my parents for over ten years altogether, and as their physical conditions have changed with time, so have the different types of care that I have to provide. Generally, the older your elderly loved one, the wider the range of personal care that you will probably need to provide.


What is personal care for the elderly ? Personal care is supporting someone with their –


  • personal hygiene
  • toileting
  • grooming
  • daily activities  – these are often referred to as ADL’s, or “Activities of Daily Living”

Personal Care does not include any “skilled nursing” practices.

Personal Care can include all the following, but is not limited to this:


  • bathing, showering, sponge baths
  • dental hygiene
  • foot care – pedicures, care with creams for cracking feet and any special care as related to foot conditions which are common with diabetes
  • help with going to the toilet – commodes, toilets or bed pans
  • help with incontinence pads, and also cleaning private areas
  • help with shaving
  • help with grooming and hair care
  • support with putting on makeup
  • manicure, hands and nail care
  • getting in and out of bed
  • dressing and undressing
  •  any help needed with a stoma or catheter bag
  • help after any form of operation
  • walking
  • eating and food preparation


What else will I have to do, as well as personal care ?


As well as this “Personal Care” if you are a caregiver, you will most likely have to help with other areas of your loved one’s life, such as:


  • cleaning of the home
  • transport to appointments with doctors and friends
  • helping them get out to socialize
  • shopping
  • tax forms and other social security administration such as Medicare and Medicaid
  • laundry
  • the garden
  • being present at night


If your loved one suffers from any particular health conditions, there may be some forms of personal care specific to those which they may require you to perform for them, or at least to help with.


A good grooming session can really give a boost to Mom and Dad’s moods


Feeling good about the way we look can increase confidence and put a spring back into our step, and it’s no different for our elderly parent’s.

So, giving your parent a wash and grooming session can make them fell good about themselves, and have a very positive effect when they socialize.

If you are looking after your mom, maybe she would like her hair styled, or if it’s your dad, how about a hair cut and a shave.

It can really change their mood and energy levels.

If you feel that your loved one has stopped taking so much time to look after their personal hygiene, to wash hair, or to groom themselves, perhaps it’s time for you to offer a hand and to ask if they need help with anything.

I doubt it will take much before they are feeling good about themselves, and feeling enthusiastic, if you are giving them a hand.

How to ask if your parents need help with their hygiene ?


Why are mom or dad not washing ?


Before you even ask if your parent needs help with their personal care, you need to pause a moment and to examine the reasons that they may have for needing help. I have outlined a few reasons below:


  • depression
  • memory loss
  • cost
  • fear or anxiety of an accident in the bathroom
  • dementia
  • pain and loss of mobility
  • lack of strength and dexterity, or pain in hands
  • lack of energy


I have a long article with many more reasons, with longer explanations, and 48 plus tips on how to approach the problem of elderly personal hygiene, and bathing in particular, which you can find here – 48+ Caregiver tips elderly hygiene issues and care


A little tip if you are finding this hard


If you have the impression that your parent’s personal hygiene is not up to scratch, and that they may not be washing regularly, but you don’t know how to ask, try asking them out for lunch, or an afternoon.

Suggest that you help them to get groomed and fixed up.

If they say yes to you helping, you will be able to find out what it is that is giving them problems as you go along.

If your loved one resists, you have created the situation in which it is perfectly reasonable to ask why not.

In this situation, it will not seem unreasonable to ask questions about whether, or not, your loved one is having troubles with their personal hygiene and their grooming.


How do I help my Mom or Dad with their personal care ?


Once you have made it through the first awkward stages of the conversation about your loved one’s hygiene, and have discovered that they would like some assistance, it’s time to find out how you should go about helping them.

You really need to keep in mind that you are only there to support your loved one.

You should let them take the lead and guide you through what they want.

Let your elderly parent do as much as possible for themselves, as this will help them maintain their self-confidence, which should help to keep them motivated to do other things for themselves.

So keep it supportive and positive.

If your parent’s bathroom is not very well adapted for seniors, and they don’t feel safe using it, you can read my article on bathroom safety, where I outline all sorts of different measures you may take, and products which can help you to make it a safer place to bathe – 54 bathroom safety tips for seniors – A helpful guide

Here are some tips from my 10 years of looking after my parents:

Bathing and Showering


  • don’t show it if you are embarrassed – if you let them know that you are embarrassed about helping them wash, or seeing them nude, it will make them feel even more awkward, and they won’t adjust well to the new situation
  • what do they want you to help them with – before you do anything try and establish, as far is possible, what they are comfortable having you do for them
  • allowing privacy – this may sound a little odd if you are washing someone, but your parents may only want your help with washing certain areas, and may want you to step out of the bathroom when they wash their private parts
  • covering up – if your parents don’t want you to see them totally nude, make sure that they have something to cover themselves up with during the process, and don’t forget that you must let them guide you through this
  • make a schedule – so that your mom, or dad, feels that they are in control you must establish a schedule of their choosing
  • keep all areas dry – when you are washing, or helping your loved one wash, be vigilant and keep all the floor areas dry to avoid any accidents
  • keep within arms reach – wherever possible, always try to be with arms reach in case your elderly love done start to fall, or slip up
  • there is more than one way of bathing – you don’t always have to make sure that your parent is having a full bath or shower, they can have a sponge bath in a commode chair, or a bed bath, so be ready to adapt to their energy levels
  • how often should they bathe – you only need to have your parents bathe once or twice a week, as their skin is more fragile than a young person’s, and produces less oils, will be dryer, and is prone to bruising, or tearing more easily
  • make a list  – it’s important to have a list of all you will need to have on hand in the bathroom before you start, and you need to have your parent guide you through the list
  • special bathing products – this may be products that your mom or dad has always loved to use, or it may now be necessary to use baby shampoos, and mild baby soap, to protect their skin from products which would be too harsh – you can easily find soaps for sensitive skin, or mild soaps for babies
  • set up everything in the bathroom and the bedroom – take the list you just made and prepare all the things you need in the bathroom set out and ready for use, as you don’t want your parents getting cold while you fumble around trying to get items that you should have had to hand. You also want to do the same in the bedroom where they will be dressing, and don’t forget to heat up both rooms as seniors get cold easily due to weaker circulation – don’t forget a towel placed on the bed so your loved one can sit there without getting the bed wet
  • a towel robe – have a towel robe ready for when your loved one gets out of the bathtub, or shower, as you can quickly get them to the bedroom without them getting cold, and they can use the robe to dry a little
  • temperature – with any type of washing, you must check the temperature yourself, and then ask your loved one to check it as well, and do this on their arm, as their hands will be used to hotter temperatures than other parts of the body
  •  bathe or shower slowly – with everything you do you must talk and move slowly, as your loved ones may not hear things properly, or be anywhere near as agile as you are, which can cause accidents and a lot of frustration
  • follow your loved one’s lead – only do what your loved one asks you to do, and keep checking with them
  • cream and moisturizers – once your loved one is out of the shower and dry, don’t forget that their skin is dryer than a younger person’s, and they may want to have some cream or moisturizing lotion put on

I also have an article on making bathing easier for the elderly – 36 Caregiver tips: How to make bathing easier for the elderly ?

Foot Care


  • washing feet if you are just helping your parent with their feet, you can do this in a bowl and make sure that they check the water temperature is to their liking
  • drying feet – his can be a bit delicate as a lot of seniors may have swollen feet and toe joints, so you need to go slowly and delicately – if your parent doesn’t like a towel you can pat them lightly with a towel and then use a hair dryer on a warm setting, but don’t make it too hot
  • foot creams – you may need to use foot creams to keep your parent’s feet from cracking


Help with going to the toilet


  • raised toilet seats – these are great if your parent is having trouble sitting down or getting up from the toilet, as they add about 3 -4 inches in height to the toilet seat, although the disadvantage is that they still have nothing to hold onto to stabilize themselves – if you need armrests, some risers and front locking seats have them
  • bedside commodes – these are very helpful if your loved one is slow getting up out of bed or simply can’t walk to the toilet, and you may have to help them off their bed and onto the commode
  • 3-in-1 commodes – I have used a 3-in-1 commode for my mom for quite some time after a hip replacement surgery, because it was so light I was able to put it in the bedroom with the potty in it, right next to the bed when my mom came home from surgery, and then later I was able to place it over the toilet without the potty, so my mom could easily sit down while holding onto the frame
  • bed pans – for those whose loved ones can’t get out of bed, you will need to use bedpans
  • incontinence underwear – for elderly parents who are incontinent you can purchase incontinence underwear which you will need to change when they get wet or soiled


I have a long article, “Can a bedside be used over a toilet ?”, all about using bedside commodes as a raised toilet seat, how they compare to the different types of raised toilet seat. How to set it up, how to clean them and their maintenance. You can find that article here.




  • electric razors – I found with my father that the answer to his motor neuron disease and dementia was an electric razor, which he was able to do by himself for a very long time, and when I was asked to take over it was very simple for me to shave him with it as well


Grooming and Hair Care


  • set it all out –just as with showering and bathing make sure you have all you need to set out ahead of time, making sure you heat the bathroom up, that you have extra towels, something to cover their eyes, or even a pair of goggles
  • washing an older person’s hair – find out how your loved one likes their hair to be washed, they may have washed their hair in a particular way for years, and most people’s hair has its own quirks, for which your loved one will have their ways of dealing with it
  • what hair products do I need – your elderly parent will surely have a range of products, or a shampoo they like, so ask with them and get the products that they have found will do the job the way they like it
  • do they need a special shampoo – if your elderly loved one’s hair is thinning, or is becoming dryer, or finer with age, you may want to choose a gentler shampoo with them ? They may also want a baby shampoo, so their eyes don’t sting. I know my mom’s eyes have become much more sensitive with age
  • is there a special position – together with your loved one you will need to find a position which is comfortable for them, so let them guide you and find the best position
  • should you use a chair to make it easier ? – sitting in a chair with a bowl behind the head can be much easier for people who have mobility and pain issues
  • are you doing any styling ? – you may want to do a little styling, and maybe your loved one can show you how they used to do that
  • slowly, slowly –  I had to learn to slow down a lot for my mom, as I went too fast, and she found it very frustrating as she couldn’t hear me properly and didn’t realize what I was trying to do
  • do it in 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.
  • let them do as much as they can – maybe they can’t wash their hair, but maybe they can do some cutting themselves, or curling and setting
  • 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
  • water temperature – ask your loved one to check it after you have, and check it on their arm, not their hands
  • take all your cues from your loved one – keep asking your mom, or dad, if it is going the way they want, and remember to keep asking if they want to do the next step, before you jump in and do it
  • no-rinse conditioner – there is no need for a second rinsing
  • non-rinse shampoo –f your loved one doesn’t want a full shampoo you can sometimes use the shampoos that you don’t have to rinse out, which you can get in a shower cap
  • keeping it simple – keep it simple at first, and you won’t be disappointed, you will learn in time, and then you can try something a bit more complicated

Take extra care with Mom’s hygiene


With women, extra care must be taken when cleaning their private parts, as they are more prone to Urinary Tract Infections than men.

You must always wipe from front to back when cleaning them.


What if I can’t provide the personal care ?


If you are unable, or unavailable, to provide personal care, or if your loved one is not comfortable with their child helping with intimate tasks such as bathing, you can find professional companies specialized in personal care.

You can contact your local Area Agency on Aging, and they will be able to give you the names of companies who provide Personal Care Services.

The companies will provide detailed lists of all the types of Personal Care that their services extend to, and that can be provided within your parent’s home.

Many parents will be happier with a professional caregiver, as it doesn’t upset the relationships and roles within the family.


To find your local Area Agency on Aging, you can use this link here.



The different aspects of personal care which you are required to provide for your elderly loved one will really depend on their age, and on whether they have been blessed with good health, and of course, on what your loved one is willing to have you help them with.

What’s important here is that you provide the personal care in a quiet and gentle way, remembering to make it clear to your loved one that you are supporting them, and that they are to lead and to guide you in the activities with which they wish you to help.

If you can go on days out and have treats making things fun, it will all pass much more easily, and with far less frustration.

It’s clear that sometimes it can drive you up the wall trying to get things done, but you also have to be willing to accept that you just can’t always get it all done, or your mom or dad just isn’t up to it that day, and you have to be flexible and let it go.

I hope that my article has been of help. You will find other articles on similar topics listed below.


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.

Gareth Williams

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