Why Is Hygiene Important For The Elderly ?

by | Beginners Info, Personal Hygiene

As caregivers, we are responsible for trying to keeping our loved ones as healthy as possible, and good health demands good hygiene. If we notice that our parents are maybe not as sweet smelling, as they otherwise could be, or that their home is dirty, we have to somehow step in and offer our support.

 

Why is hygiene important for the elderly ? Good hygiene is important for everyone to avoid infections, viruses and disease, but in particular for the elderly because with age their immune system weakens, making them much more susceptible to infections and disease.

The number one reason why hygiene is important for the elderly is to keep your loved one in good physical health.

As a person ages their immune system will slow down and weaken.

As a result, the elderly will take far more time to fight off invading viruses and bacteria, which have become even more of a threat than they ever were before.

Compounding the problem of our immune systems becoming weaker with age, our skin gets thinner and drier, and so becomes much more susceptible to being damaged.

This makes it much easier for bacteria to cause infections.

A lot of extra care needs to be taken if your loved one gets a scratch or a tear, as it can easily turn into a something more serious, very quickly.

Hygiene is not just personal hygiene

The subject of hygiene covers both personal hygiene, and regular hygiene around the home, whether you loved one lives in their own home, an assisted living facility, or a nursing home.

Your elderly parents need to be taking care of both their  – 

Personal hygiene

  • bathing and showering
  • feet and hands – pedicure and manicure
  • hair care 
  • dental care
  • hand washing – this is especially important when handling food
  • clothes washing

And their –

Regular hygiene in the home

Cleaning of your loved one’s home –

  • kitchen counters
  • fridge
  • taps
  • floors
  • walls
  • bathroom
  • lights
  • door handles
  • table tops

 

Proper precautions and cleanliness when handling food –

  • make sure food is put away
  • don’t leave things which go in the fridge lying around out of the fridge
  • check the dates on the food and throw at old food
  • wash hands before and after handling food 

What about my hygiene as a caregiver ?

Family and caregivers need to be aware of their hygiene too when they are looking after, or visiting, their elderly loved ones.

Caregivers’ and visitors’ hygiene

Proper precautions and cleanliness when visiting or looking after an elderly loved one –

  • don’t go or look after someone when you are sick
  • if there is a flu epidemic and you are a caregiver, stay away from people you know who are ill
  • if there is flu, or some other type of contagious virus outbreak, don’t go to visit your elderly loved ones, and if you do, wash your hands before you touch them, and avoid kissing etc
  • if you have a cold and you are a caregiver, but you still have to look after your loved one, when you are handling food cover your mouth and wear some form of latex gloves, as there will be less risk of your elderly parent catching your cold
  • always wash your hands before and after touching food, even when you are not sick, as this will stop the spread of germs
  • wash your hands before you touch your loved one, again this will stop the spread of germs
  • if you are dealing with incontinence, always wash your hands if you are not wearing gloves, as this will stop the spread of germs, and also bacteria
  • always cover you mouth when you cough
  • never handle an elderly person’s food if you are recovering from a stomach bug 

Hand washing

Washing your hands, and your loved ones washing their hands, is vital to stopping the spread of germs and infections.

Every time I am about to do something for my mom, I make sure that I go and wash my hands, and then afterwards as well.

You don’t have to use anti-bacterial hand washes, good old fashioned soap and water is fine, and will help to keep germs in check. 

You can also wash the surfaces that your hands touch frequently such as door handles, taps, and toilet flushing buttons or handles, which will also help to prevent the spread of germs.

How do I ask my loved one if they need help with their personal hygiene ?

Before you ask someone that they need help with their personal hygiene, you may want to find out why they aren’t taking the appropriate care of themselves.

So you need to subtly ask your loved one if they need help in any way with bathing, or the laundry, or the cleaning in the home.

I have always found that if you go slowly and you aren’t blunt about it, that my parent’s have responded very well

It is key to just ask what your loved ones need you to do for them, to make their life easier, and to support them in maintaining their independence.

The reasons for this lack of personal hygiene can be many –

  • too expensive – it may cost too much for their budget to bathe frequently
  • only so many hours in a day – they may be prioritizing what they can get done in a day, and personal hygiene isn’t a big priority for them
  • fatigue – they may be lacking in the energy necessary to go bathe
  • poor sleeping patterns – many elderly have a lot of trouble with sleeping and may wake consistently in the night, which leaves them exhausted the next day
  • catching cold – your loved one may be catching cold when they get wet and it can be putting them off bathing regularly
  • fear – your parent may be afraid of falling in the bathroom when washing
  • loss of dignity – your parent may be well aware they need to take better care of their personal hygiene, but they are unable to bring themselves to ask for your help, as they feel it is undignified
  • depression – this can cause a lack of interest in even the most necessary tasks
  • pain and loss of mobility – it may be too difficult and painful to get in and out of the bath, or to get into other positions required
  • memory loss – it is very common for seniors to suffer from short term memory loss, and some days they may just be forgetting to do certain tasks
  • fear of losing control – your loved ones may be afraid that if they ask for help they are losing control of their independence
  • vision and hearing loss – problems with sight and hearing may make it unsafe for the elderly to wash themselves, and also hard to see what they are doing
  • loss of sense of smell – your loved one’s senses may have dulled a little and they may be unaware that they may have a strong body odor
  • cognitive disorders – dementia and other mental health disorders can lead to your loved one not looking after their personal hygiene

I have a long article about “Why the elderly do not want to bathe”, which will  help you to understand these different issues, and also how to help your parents. You will find it here.

Making the conversation easier

It may be a rather easy conversation to have with your parent, if you know that they have severe mobility issues, or suffer badly from arthritis, or any other illness, and you may just be able to say that you worry about them and want to know how you can help.

You may find that they just need some safety kit in the bathroom.

If you discover that your parent is open to you you helping them with their bathing and other aspects of their personal care, it’s a really good idea to try and focus on making it fun, if they are nervous.

You may want to spoil them a little – get some skin creams, or bath salts that they love.

Offer to take them out to get their hair done, or a pedicure and a manicure, and then have some lunch.

Make it as positive as possible, and then try to get them to go and see some friends so they can feel good about themselves.

I know it’s a bit like bribery, but if at first it gets the ball rolling, once they are used to the new routine, they won’t need so much coaxing.

Find out what your parent used to love to do when they were treating themselves, and get them talking about it, as this will take their minds off any nervousness.

And don’t forget to make it clear that you are there to do what they need you to do, and that you are not trying to take control of their lives or to interfere.

You shouldn’t need to say this, if you just ask them to let you know what it is they need from you.

Your goal, is to find out what they would like you to help them with, and you have to go as gently as possible, so they don’t resist all your attempts to help them.

I have over 10 years of experience with caring for my parents, and I have an article in which I share, with you, my tips that I have learnt on how to have the conversation, how to make the job easier, less embarrassing and safer – “36 Caregiver tips : How to make bathing easier for the elderly” – and you can find that here.

How often should my parent bathe ?

There is no need to go crazy with a bathing schedule.

Nursing homes only bathe the elderly, in general once or twice a week.

As we age our skin produces less oils and becomes thinner, making it more fragile, and prone to tearing and bruising.

Excessive washing can damage the skin, and it’s oils, so it is important to not over do it.

As regards soaps, I have always found it is advisable to use the gentler ones for babies, and for shampoo, I would also go with a baby shampoo as it won’t sting your loved one’s eyes if they get some in them.

If your parent is incontinent you will need to be rather more diligent with their personal hygiene. 

There is a greater risk of infection, and Urinary Tract Infections are not to be messed around with.

Ladies are at greater risk than men, and should always be cleaned wiping from front to back to avoid UTI’s.

If your parent wets themselves, they should be thoroughly cleaned, wiped and dried, with all wet articles being be replaced with dry ones to avoid any skin problems

If your loved ones are doubly incontinent then I think you will already have a more involved routine.

How do I help my parent with their personal hygiene ?

If you discover that your parent is open to you helping them with their bathing, and with other aspects of their personal care, it’s a really good ides to try and focus on making it fun, especially if they are nervous.

You may want to spoil them a little – get some skin creams, or bath salts that they love.

Offer to take them out to get their hair done, or a pedicure and a manicure, and then have some lunch.

Make it as positive as possible, and then try to get them to go and see some friends, so they can feel good about themselves.

I know it’s a bit like bribery, but if at first it gets the ball rolling, once they are used to the new routine, they won’t need so much coaxing.

Find out what they used to love to do when they were treating themselves, and get them talking about it as this will take their minds off any nervousness.

And don’t forget to make it clear that you are there to do what they need you to do, and that you are not trying to take control of their lives, or to interfere.

You shouldn’t need to say this, if you just ask them to let you know what it is they need from you.

Your goal is to find out what they would like you to help them with, and you have to go as gently as possible, so that they don’t resist all your attempts to help them.

If you are very concerned about how to help your parent with their hygiene I have another article “48 caregiver tips for elderly hygiene issues and care” where I talk at length about all the reasons for a lack of care, the best way to approach talking about their hygiene, what to do, and how to support them in doing this. You can find this article here.

There are lots of practical tips, on all the stages you will go through, including the conversation, as well as how to how to help them wash. There is information about other aspects of their hygiene as well – dental care, feet and hands.

Set up a schedule for bathing and showering 

Once you get started, it is alway a good idea to get your parent to choose a schedule with you, and for you to stick to it.

It will be much less invasive for your loved ones as they chose the times with you, they know you are coming, so they will feel it is less of an interference.

The trick is to make them feel that they have set the schedule.

Do I have to bathe or shower them in the bathroom every time ?

If your parents are tired, or in pain, and really don’t want to have to use the shower or the bathtub, and the distress it is causing is too great, then just have a sponge bath, or a flannel bath. 

Also, for shampooing, if that is too much in a bath or shower, you can give your parent a “no rinse” shampoo with a spray foam, which you just rub in and then towel off.

A bathing schedule doesn’t mean it has to be a big bathroom affair every time, and it isn’t worth trying to do it every time, if it is making your loved one unhappy.

You have to let them decide what type of bath they want, and to be happy with that.

You have to let go sometimes, even if you are exasperated, be flexible, and just say “okay, they did have some kind of wash today”. 

Summarizing

Everybody is susceptible to viruses and bacterial infections, but in the case of the elderly, they are somewhat more vulnerable than most of the rest of the population.

Their immune systems are less strong, and their skin in particular is more prone to infections than before.

As the family and caregivers, we are able to see if there is a decline in our elderly loved ones personal hygiene, and to help them do something about it.

We are also responsible for the hygiene standards that we employ when we are caring for, or visiting, our loved ones.

We must behave responsibly and with common sense, so as not to expose our elderly parents to germs, and take any precautions necessary to reduce risks of exposing them unnecessarily to germs etc.

If you are having trouble with helping your parent with their personal hygiene, you must try and impress upon them that you are just there to support them.

And that if they fall into bad heath due to poor personal hygiene, they may risk losing their independence and being able to stay in their own home.

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.

Gareth Williams

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Why is hygiene important for the elderly ?
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Good hygiene is important for everyone to avoid infections, viruses and disease, but in particular for the elderly because with age their immune system weakens, making them much more susceptible to infections and disease.
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Lookingaftermomanddad.com