Personal hygiene and care whilst maintaining physical health is of the utmost importance for the elderly.
Encouraging and helping an elderly person to keep up with personal hygiene and grooming is vital to enabling them to feel the best they can in their senior years as well as retaining their dignity and self-esteem.
You would think that bathing is an essential daily task for everyone, no matter your age.
It appears that it is not necessarily the case. Harvard Health Publishing writes “Daily showers do not improve your health, could cause skin problems or other health issues — and, importantly, they waste a lot of water”. “Normal healthy skins maintains a layer of oil and a balance of ‘good’ bacteria and other microorganisms. Daily washing and scrubbing removes these, especially if the water is hot. As a result, skin may become dry”.
As for the elderly, the general consensus is that they don’t have to bathe every day. After all, their lifestyle is less active so they can start the morning by ‘freshening up’ rather than a full-on bath or shower. However, if they are able, they should bathe daily as part of their routine and to upkeep a good habit. Otherwise, two to three times a week is the minimum, with a daily routine of at least washing essential areas like face, private parts and armpits.
In addition, hand washing after using the toilet and before meals is essential.
For the really infirm, there are methods like a sponge bath or bed bath.
Good personal hygiene is essential at any age. It is a known fact that personal hygiene generally declines with age. This can be due to a range of reasons.
The elderly can simply forget to wash or they neglect their hygienic needs. Believe it or not, refusing to wash is common too. Understanding why is not so common but important to tackle.
Poor hygiene is a sign of self-neglect. It can also be out of fear and discomfort or even boredom, that they don’t want to bathe. Also, it could be a matter of feeling like they are losing respect and control as well as their independence and privacy. It can also stem from an underlying medical issue like an emotional disorder like depression or a mental disorder such as cognitive impairment and dulling of the senses that comes with aging. All important reasons that should not be left undiscussed.
It is a primary focus for elderly people to sustain good personal hygiene. Even though it is more cumbersome and considered a burden for the elderly, it’s even more important than not, to maintain good practice.
Hygiene and physical health go hand in hand. General and common issues like body odor also need to be considered as well as dirt, oils and bacteria accumulate on the skin, therefore proper cleansing is necessary, bearing in mind elderly immune systems are not as robust as they once were. In addition, careful personal cleansing prevents UTIs which are common in the elderly.
There are also practical reasons to take into account when an elderly person does not want to bathe.
Whether it is difficult to stand in the shower or to get in and out of the bath, there are additional hazards associated with staying clean, like, fear of slipping or falling or losing balance.
If an elderly person refuses help it would be wise to consider making sure that these safety measures, at the least, are in place to avoid slip/fall accidents and injury:
- Non-slip mats for the shower and bath
- Chair bench in the shower
- Raised toilet
- Grab bars in the bathroom
- Practical floor mats that are not a trip hazard
Assisting an elderly person to bath/shower can cause anxiety and embarrassment. However, providing support with compassion and gentleness can go a long way.
It is best to establish a routine.
Create a relaxing atmosphere by making sure the room is warm enough, keeping the conversation natural, even playing some of their favorite music, to distract them from feeling stressed with the task at hand. Most importantly, allow them to do as much as possible.
From a practical point of view and to keep the task going smoothly, make sure soap and shampoo and other essentials items are within easy reach.
From a personal point of view, be conscious of their modesty. Gauge the situation, and if necessary, cover exposed parts of their body that are not being washed immediately, with a towel so that they feel comfortable. Have a towel ready for when they finish bathing/showering.
Additionally, it is a good idea to help them invest in hygiene aids like a long-handled shower brush or loofah, nail clippers, to name a few.
Finally, post-cleaning care is a vital step in personal hygiene. This includes moisturizing their skin with cream to keep skin soft and hydrated. Dental care by maintaining regular care and brushing of teeth and cleaning of dentures, hair care and grooming and even pedicures for foot health.
Personal hygiene and keeping clean must be part of their daily routine. After all, bathing is something we have been doing since birth. Not only does it keep them occupied as part of their day, it will also help them feel more sociable and give them a sense of purpose, by maintaining a schedule.
Personal appearance and general hygiene really do matter at any age and can particularly influence an elderly person’s dignity, identity and individuality. For the sake of their health, the elderly shouldn’t ‘let themselves go’.
In closing, a note regarding bathroom gadgets for seniors. Gadgets are not just for the young and the market has grown massively and include handy, practical tools specially designed with the elderly in mind and their quality of life. Many devices now help keep seniors happy and safe and can be the difference between being able to live independently, safely, and needing to go into a care home.
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