Personal hygiene is important whatever our age, not just for the sake of cleanliness and preventing the spread and contraction of germs and illnesses, but also as a form of self care; to make us feel and look good. 

For older people who might be living with reduced mobility, frailty, and the possible decline of cognitive function, personal hygiene and care can become difficult, or even impossible. For people who have always been able to take care of themselves in the past, this can be difficult to come to terms with. Some older people might feel ashamed or embarrassed that they can no longer look after their own personal hygiene as well as they would like, and for those who are living with dementia or a declining mental health condition forgetting to bathe or change their clothes can become an issue that over time can exacerbate the situation. 

If you are caring for an elderly loved one, you might be struggling to find a way to encourage and help with good personal hygiene practices, and so Care In Kent have put together this guide full of tips to help you ensure that your loved one stays healthy and well-cared for. 

1. Make Sure The Bathroom Is A Safe Environment

The fear of slips or falls can be one of the main reasons that an older person might be reluctant to use the bath or shower. 

Whether you are caring for your loved one in their own home or in yours, there is safety equipment you can invest in and measures you can put in place that will allow them to retain their independence in continuing to take care of their own personal hygiene for as long as possible. 

Such as:

Sturdy handrails for using the toilet or getting in and out of the bath or shower. Make sure these are installed property (we don’t advise using the type with suction cup attachments that might not be able to take the weight of a grown adult using them for support). Handrails often come in bright colours such as white, red or blue, making them visually clear.

Raised toilet seats to make sitting down and standing up from the toilet easier by simply making the toilet higher.

Clearly label shampoos, shower gels and other toiletries. This can be particularly useful if your loved one struggles to read the smaller text on similar looking bottles, and for those who are living with the early stages of dementia.

Avoid using slippery bath oils

Invest in non-slip mats for the bath and shower

Make sure the lighting is good

Remove any cleaning products such as bleach, toilet cleaners or laundry detergents that are kept in the bathroom and store them elsewhere. These can pose a hazard to an older person who is living with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

2. Routine Is Key

Routine is very important to older people, much in the same way it can be for young children; knowing exactly what is happening and when can make them feel safer and more secure. 

This is especially important if your elderly loved one is living with dementia, as not having a clear routine can make them feel confused, agitated and frustrated and even depressed. 

Having a good routine in place can help an older person to get used to you aiding them with specific activities such as hair washing or brushing. It will help them to relax and feel comfortable. A hygiene routine shouldn’t be rushed or feel like a chore, you want your loved one to feel cared-for and respected, and a set routine – time set aside especially for them –  will help with that.

3. Respect Your Loved One’s Choices

Individuals have a strong sense of personal style when it comes to their hair and clothes and what suits them. And that doesn’t change just because we age. 

If you are supporting an older loved one with their personal care it’s important that you allow them to stay independent by choosing their own clothing and sense of self. Stopping someone from having the choice of how to present themselves can have a huge negative impact on their dignity and mental well-being, and for older people, having a clean and respectable appearance can be really important for their self-esteem. 

If you are helping an older person to dress themselves it might be tempting to choose a simple option like joggers and t-shirt – easy to put on and to remove. But, for an older person who feels more at home in a suit or dress, this could be very upsetting. Always take the extra time to make sure that they feel good about how they look, including helping them with accessories such as earrings, make-up or a wrist watch, if this is something they are used to wearing and makes them feel like ‘them’.

4. Always Be Sensitive

When you are caring for another person you must always remember the importance of dignity and respect. 

For an older person who has spent their life being the carer and protector of others, suddenly needing to be cared for themselves can be a huge adjustment – one that can lead to feelings of frustration, depression and even anger in some cases.

If you are in a caring role that involves having to bathe someone, take them to the toilet, or help them to dress or undress, you always have to handle the situation sensitively and tactfully. Your loved one might feel self-conscious or embarrassed, so you need to make them feel as comfortable as possible. 

Making sure that all areas of someone’s body is washed well and properly dried is important. If this is a task you are supporting an older person with, or are undertaking for them, it can be an idea to use a towel or dressing gown to cover them, uncovering just the areas you are washing as you go.  

Caring for our older loved ones is an honour and a privilege, but there’s no denying that without support and advice it can often feel like a lonely and confusing time – particularly if your loved one is living with dementia, Alzheimer’s or other health conditions. 

If you want to know more about respite care, or how Care In Kent can help with all aspects of at home care for the people that you love, give a member of our professional and expert team a call.