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Why Is Hygiene Important For The Elderly ?

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As caregivers, we are responsible for trying to keep 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 ? Hygiene is important for elderly to avoid infections, viruses and disease,  because –

 

  • with age, the immune system weakens, making us much more susceptible to illness
  • an elderly person’s skin becomes thinner and more liable to tearing, which can easily lead to infections without proper hygiene

 

As a result frequent washing of hands, daily washing under the arms and private parts is important – with this a bath or shower once a week is enough.

 

Why is it important for an older person to maintain body hygiene ?

 

The number one reason that 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.

Elderly hygiene issues

 

Why is my loved one not taking care of 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 require 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 one’s 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 adults 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.

Importance of bathing for the elderly ?

 

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 fewer 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 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 to talk to an elderly person about their personal hygiene ?

 

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’re helping them with their bathing and other aspects of their personal care, it’s an excellent 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 require 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 learned about 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.

Safety precautions that need to be taken when assisting a person with their personal hygiene

 

The bathroom with all its slippery surfaces and the water is a minefield of possible accidents for elderly adults.

There is a lot of safety equipment which you can use to cut down on the risks involved in using the bathroom.

As I wrote earlier that I have an article with different types of safety equipment with the suppliers names that you can look for on the internet. You can read that article if you click here.

 

Here’s a list of some of the more useful safety equipment for the bathroom –

 

  • grab bars
  • floor to ceiling poles
  • bath and shower chairs
  • using hand held shower heads for rinsing
  • liquid soap or soap on a string
  • a shower caddy to keep everything in one place
  • medical alert buttons
  • walk in bathtub or shower
  • non-slip bath and shower mats
  • non-slip floor products
  • toilet safety frames
  • brighter lighting

 

Again, if you are interested in bathroom safety I will  refer you to my article all about the different ways to make the bathroom safe with equipment, products and ways of doing things. You can read that here.

 

Elderly hygiene products

 

I have read many entries on different forums, and have come up with a list of different products that dermatologists have recommended to caregivers, and others which they have found themselves.

So here’s the list of the most popular products –

 

  • Cetaphil products
  • Olay body wash
  • Beckman Brothers Goats Milk products
  • Mirai Body Wash
  • Aloe Vesta moisturizer, body wash and hair wash
  • Oatmeal body wash and soaps
  • Bend Soap Company, Goats Milk Soap
  • Dr Bonner’s Castille Soap
  • Lubriderm moisturizing lotion
  • Evoo moisturizing lotion
  • Senset Cleanser
  • Glycerin and Rose water lotion
  • Olive Oil as a lotion
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 good idea 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 require 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 help them wash. There is information about other aspects of their hygiene as well – dental care, feet and hands.

For the elderly who have problems getting into a shower or a bathtub –

 

  • rinse-free shampoo
  • rinse-free bath concentrate
  • shampoo in a cap
  • waterless bathing gloves

 

For the elderly who have problems actually afraid of water, the products above will help, but you may want something to keep the water off their face –

 

  • shower visor

 

For elderly loved ones who are suffering from incontinence –

 

  • adult diapers
  • washable pants
  • incontinence pads for the bed
  • barrier creams to protect the skin from wetting
  • bidet toilet attachments or bidets can make cleaning after using the toilet much simpler for people with dementia, and for the caregivers.

 

For elderly feet –

 

  • my mom’s podiatrist love CSS Foot Care Cream (Swedish Formula)

How to give personal care to the elderly ?

 

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 idea 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 require 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 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 always 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 decide 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”. 

 

Personal hygiene checklist

 

To start, if you are going to wash your parent, you need to make them feel comfortable about it.

If you are embarrassed, don’t let them see it, as it will just make them more tense.

You are there to help support your loved one and to help them to maintain their independence in their own home.

I have a long article, “36 Caregiver Tips: How To Make Bathing Easier For The Elderly”, covering all aspects of bathing and bathroom safety, and which goes into far greater detail.

Here’s a briefer checklist for helping elderly parents with their hygiene.

 

Don’t take over

 

You need to know what your loved one needs you to help them with, and what they are able to do.

By asking your parent what they require, they will see that you are supporting them, which is really important for things to go smoothly.

 

Allow privacy

 

Give your parents as much privacy as possible while washing. Your parent may want you to leave the room as they wash certain areas of their body, or they may want to have certain parts covered while you are there.

Let your parent take the lead on this and other decisions, and guide you.

Keep on asking what your parent wants you to do.

Make a schedule

 

A schedule is a great way to start organizing the bathing process with your parent. Your parent will know when to expect you, and will not feel as though you are interfering, if they have agreed to it.

Your parent needs to give you the times that they want to bathe, and which fit with your schedule.

 

Install any safety items that you need to make the bathroom safer

 

Once your parent has asked for your help, you can sit down and find out how to make the bathroom safer, and the whole process of bathing safer and easier with the right bathroom safety equipment – grab bars etc.

 

Set out the bathroom and bedroom

 

Set out everything where you need it before you start, and all bathing items within easy reach.

The elderly catch cold very easily, so do heat up the bathroom in advance. I always used to heat the room up for my father.

I would have a towel on the bed, and take your parent there to dry themselves. You can have them wear a towel robe and also heat the bedroom, so they don’t get cold.

 

Take the bathing or showering slowly

 

Do what your parent asks you to do, and if they are able to, let them wash their private parts.

Talk and move slowly throughout, as your parent may not hear what you say well, or be able to move as quick enough to keep up with you, which may be frustrating for them, and can cause accidents.

 

Keep all areas dry

 

You have to keep an eye out, and to dry up any wet patches as you go along, so that you avoid either of you slipping.

If you are not washing your parent all the time, stay close, just so you can help them quickly if you need to.

 

Moisturizer

 

After drying your loved one, you may need to use some moisturizer to keep their skin in good condition – moisturizers will help keep the skin soft and hydrated.

An older person’s skin becomes much dryer and more vulnerable to tears and infections. Using a moisturizer will help the skin stay supple and less prone to tears.

Don’t forget the feet

 

If you are only washing your parent’s feet it doesn’t have to be in the bath, or shower, you can just use a bowl of warm water.

As with bathing, you should ask them to check the water temperature, and make sure they are happy with it, before you start.

With arthritic feet you will want to wash them slowly as joints which are inflamed can be very painful – washing is easiest with some kind of cloth, but it may catch on toes, and cause them to get pulled, so be aware of that.

 

Drying the toes

 

Go slower with the drying, as you will not have the water as a lubricant, and the towel can bunch up and hurt your parent’s toes.

If your parent has very swollen joints, just dab the feet with a towel.

 

Foot creams

 

Once you have dried your parent’s feet, you may want to also take the time to moisturize them.

There are all sorts of foot creams.

Some are abrasive creams if you wish to remove dead skin which is getting a bit thick.

If your parent is developing a cracked heel, you can do what I do for my mom which works well, which is to apply the moisturizer and then to put plastic wrap around the feet overnight.

You can also use Vaseline if you just want to keep the moisture in their foot, as it seals the skin.

And I would use plastic wrap to stop the grease getting everywhere, we did this with my mom for a while, and it worked very well.

 

Don’t forget dental care

 

Make sure your parent is having regular check-ups with their dentist.

 

Use a soft brush

 

If your parent isn’t able to brush their teeth on their own, you will need to help them.>

I had to help my father, and it can be a very tricky brushing someone else’s teeth for the first time, so do use a soft brush while you are learning to do this.

With a soft brush, you have less chance of hurting their gums.

 

Hygiene is not just personal hygiene

 

The subject of hygiene covers both personal hygiene, and regular hygiene around the home, whether your 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
  • handwashing – this is especially important when handling food
  • clothes washing

But also –

 

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 your mouth when you cough
  • never handle an elderly person’s food if you are recovering from a stomach bug

 

Handwashing

 

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 antibacterial 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.

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 one’s 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.

 

Related Articles

 

What is Personal Care for the elderly ?

 

How often should an elderly person bathe ?

 

Is a lack of personal hygiene a sign of dementia ?

 

48+ Caregiver tips for elderly hygiene issues and care

 

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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