Bathing & Hygiene in the Elderly: What to do when it becomes an issue?
As a person ages, their hygiene habits may start to deteriorate along with their health. A family member may notice they are not changing clothes or bathing on a regular basis. They may fail to comb their hair or cut their nails. Cleanliness of their surroundings also may become an issue, if they have been taking care of housekeeping chores themselves. If you ask about any of these issues, you may be given an excuse that doesn’t explain the situation. If so, there may be things that the person is not telling you.
Causes for a change in hygiene habits
Of the many concerns facing the children of elderly parents, personal hygiene can be one of the most difficult to discuss. It may feel like a very private and somewhat embarrassing issue to you and your loved one. The key to solving the problem lies in understanding it. There are many possible reasons for the elderly to change their hygiene habits. Watch, listen and document the changes you see. Click here for more information from the source of this list of things to watch for:
- Depression. This is a widespread problem among the elderly. It can create a lack of interest in many of the important routines of daily life, including personal hygiene.
- Weaker Senses. With age, the senses of sight and smell can deteriorate. Body odors and food stains may be very obvious to you but may not be to an elderly person.
- Fear. Mobility and balance problems could make your loved one afraid of climbing into the bath or standing on the wet floor of a shower. Pain and poor eyesight may also be issues.
- Memory. Remembering the last time they took a bath or shower can be difficult for the elderly. If there are few activities to distinguish one day from another, they can easily forget.
- Control. Ageing can strip away a person’s sense of control. If they feel like they are being nagged to improve their hygiene, they may resist any suggestions.
- Different Generations. Bathing in your parents’ youth was often just a weekly event. The nature of memory in age makes recent events hazy, while the past is more easily remembered. The habits of the past can start to feel perfectly normal.
How do I encourage my elderly parent to wash regularly?
Once you understand the likely causes of your elderly parent’s problems with personal hygiene, they may become easier to deal with. First of all you have to be both realistic and sensitive. You don’t want to hurt your parent’s feelings and make the situation even worse. You can’t expect to solve the problem quickly with only one frank chat. The focus must be on compromise. Just as your parent may have to accept assistance and possibly even changes to the home, you may have to lower your standards, if necessary.
When is help necessary?
Often people who begin to suffer from dementia can forget the once-automatic steps of how to do a certain behavior. At this point, you or a professional caregiver may have to help with the process. Bathing can become a task that memory-impaired individuals will not do. They might become angry or aggressive if the subject is brought up. Sometimes sponge bathing is an acceptable solution, and showering with a shower chair, safety bars and a hand held shower piece can be done only once or twice a week. Often elderly people will allow an aide to bathe them, because he/she is coming specifically to do it and is seen as an authority figure who they will comply with.
Products such as the Clorox® CareConcepts™ Bed Bath & Hygiene Kit can provide what you need to clean and protect individuals with limited mobility from infection or discomfort when a traditional shower isn’t an option. Click on the link above to find step-by-step instructions as to the best way to assist a patient of loved one with a sponge bath using these products. The basics include:
- Prepare: Wash hands to a lather with soap. Dry, and put on non-latex gloves.
- Close windows, doors and/or curtains to ensure warmth and privacy.
- Prep the patient: Arrange towels beneath him/her. Cover him/her with a thin blanket for privacy and warmth.
- Undress the patient; check him or her for any new sores or abrasions.
- Wash: Wash the individual’s hair by massaging no-rinse shampoo into his or her hair, let rest and then towel off,
- Use disposable wipes to gently wash in order of cleanest to least clean areas. Begin with face, neck and shoulders, then torso, arms, legs, feet, back and genitalia.
- After washing, quickly pat the area dry with a towel and re-cover for warmth.
- Moisturize & protect: Apply moisturizing Lotion to cleaned and dried areas, gently rubbing the lotion into the person’s skin.
- Re-dress him or her with clean clothes.
- Clean up: Dispose of wipes and gloves. Bring soiled towels, sheets or clothes immediately to the laundry for rinsing and washing.
- Wash hands to a lather and dry.
Tips for First-Time Caregivers
- Be patient. It takes time to get to a new state of normal for both you and your loved ones.
- To move or wash an immobile individual’s backside, use the roll sheet method of placing a sheet beneath the individual and then raising one side of the sheet to gradually shift the person’s weight onto his or her side. Towels or blankets may be used to support the individual as weight shifts.
- Frequent hot baths or showers can be unhealthy for aging skin. Sponge baths are a good alternative.
- Special care is required for cleaning near wounds and blood clots. Consult a physician.
- Moisture from washing may cause pressure ulcers on skin. Thorough drying using a towel is highly recommended to protect against the development of skin ulcers or abrasions.
- Examine your loved one regularly. Use good light to check for new bed sores or skin problems.
Changing clothes often becomes overwhelming for the elderly. Consider clothes with elastic waistbands and easy-to-release closures that make it easier to get dressed and undressed. An elderly person might wear the same clothes for several days or choose from only two or three outfits that they wear repeatedly. Remember the goal is to keep them clean and healthy. You may have to lower your expectations a little. Let them wear what they want as long as it is clean. Sometimes we need to go through the process of aging on our elderly parents’ terms, not ours.
In-home care services
The most practical solution may be to engage in-home care services, like Dakota Travel Nurse Home Care. This ensures your parent is in professional hands and is kept adequately clean. However, this is still an area that needs careful handling. You might resist having a stranger coming into your home to give you a bath. Your parent may feel no differently. They might understand the need, but that won’t change the emotional issues involved when it happens. Put yourself in their shoes and listen to their concerns. When you feel they are ready, meet with a caregiver who is fully trained in dealing with this situation sensitively and who can answer all their questions. As with family, professional help routines can start small and then increase until your loved one feels comfortable with the situation. When outside help is consistent, your parent will have a caregiver with whom they are familiar and at ease. In this way you can have the reassurance your parents are in good hands and that personal hygiene is no longer a worry.