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Talking to an Elderly Person About Hygiene

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 29 Aug 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Elderly Older Adult Hygiene Personal

Most elderly people were once healthy, strong adults who took an interest in their appearance, or at the very least made sure they stayed clean. Unfortunately the elderly may no longer be able to care for their own hygiene, or even recognise that it is lacking. If you need to talk with an older adult about personal hygiene be sure to show them the respect they deserve and look at their limitations as possible warning signs about their health. Assist with personal care supplies and work out a hygiene routine to help keep your loved one as fresh and healthy as possible.

Show Respect

The elderly are not children, no matter how limited they are in caring for themselves. Remember this when speaking with an older adult and do everything you can to show respect and protect his or her dignity. Letting someone know that their personal hygiene is substandard can be embarrassing for all involved, so if you feel that the news is better communicated by a carer or medical professional then seek one out. Don’t nag your loved one about hygiene as that has the potential to backfire and make him or her even less likely to perform activities like bathing, shaving and change clothes. Instead, broach the subject in a private place and make it clear that you are concerned and want to offer assistance.

Look for Warning Signs

When older people’s hygiene slips it can be a sign that they are experiencing health problems. Observe your loved one and ask him or her outright if there is a reason (s)he is not keeping up the same standards. Consider if it could be that:
  • Joint pain does not allow him or her to open jars/tubes/bottles.
  • Decreased strength means (s)he can not press down on sprays.
  • Unsteady balance keeps him or her out of the bath or shower.
  • A decreased sense of smell means (s)he doesn’t notice odours.
  • Failing sight means (s)he doesn’t see his or her appearance clearly.
  • Part of a past hygiene routine now causes them physical pain.
  • (S)he has trouble remembering the last time (s)he bathed.
  • A cavity or infection keeps him or her from practising good oral hygiene.
  • The hygiene products (s)he once favoured are now unavailable.
  • Medications are bringing on new side effects.
  • Depression means (s)he doesn’t care anymore.
  • Confusion makes hygiene tasks unsafe.

Assist with Supplies

Once you determine why an older adult is not keeping up with hygiene you can offer to help him or her amass the supplies (s)he’ll need to get back on track. Not only can you restock necessary products, but re-organise bedrooms or bathrooms so that everything is within easy reach. You may also be able to purchase adaptive equipment such as bath rails to help your loved one with his or her tasks. Don’t forget to purchase:
  • Soap, body wash and/or bath bubbles.
  • Wipes for the face or body.
  • Antiperspirant or deodorant.
  • Toothpaste and/or mouthwash.
  • Denture cleaning products.
  • Shaving supplies or electric shaver.
  • Shampoo.
  • Shower cap.
  • Personal wipes to keep near the toilet.
  • Incontinence products.
  • Nail clippers.
  • Body lotion.
  • Perfume or cologne.

Work Out a Routine

Once you have re-stocked all of your loved one’s personal care supplies you might want to work out a routine with him or her. Consider purchasing a large calendar on which you can mark down particular appointments, for example a weekly trip to the salon or the day a personal care assistant will be over, and make dates for when you will come over to help with activities like drawing baths, giving a manicure or going shopping for more supplies. Hang a list of important phone numbers for emergency contacts (doctor, dentists, friends and relatives close by) near the calendar so all information about health and hygiene is centralised. Make a list of personal care items that your loved one can tick off when she needs more. Also invest in medicine containers marked off with the days of the week so that you and your loved one can be more confident that (s)he is staying on track with her medicine schedule.

Talking to an elderly person about hygiene is a delicate situation. Show older adults the respect they deserve, look at their limited hygiene routines to determine if there are warning signs of health problems, assist with getting and arranging personal care supplies and work out a routine so that you and your loved one both feel confident about their personal hygiene in the future.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
My Mother in law is 81 and she needs to be reminded to take a shower. At first we asked her to shower every other day, that only lasted a week. She poops on her self, it's smeared all over the toilet, and never uses the wipes we provided for her. It has became a constant battle for my husband. He talks to her nicely, tells her how inportant hygiene is to be healthy. Her room is starting to smell, she sits all day in her recliner and only changes her briefs once a day.
Ni - 29-Aug-17 @ 11:06 PM
Terri - Your Question:
Thank you for this article. It has some very helpful information and I hope I can implement some of it in a situation that we are dealing with. I attend a 12 Step group and there is a member who is in her 60's who doesn't bath, wears dirty clothes, and doesn't even comb her hair. She has a very foul odor and many people are offended by it. No one knows how to approach her about her lack of hygiene. Her being there has caused many members to stop attending our group. This has been going on for a long time and a few members have brought hygiene products in to the group to donate to anyone who wants them. And some people have given her shampoo and various other products. All to no avail. Lately, her odor has been so bad that we all sit as far away from her as we can. We'd burn a fragrant candle or use room spray, except that some members have asthma and cannot tolerate perfumes. Do you have any suggestions?

Our Response:
We really don't know what is the best approach here as we don't know her personality too well. She's clearly got other problems possibly associated with the alcoholism and maybe needs more self esteem etc. Some suggestions which may or may not work:
Organise an event where everyone gets a makeover - at a spa perhaps?
Get the group organiser to send a kind letter to her explaining the problem and asking if she needs any help?
Have a general talk - perhaps by a guest presenter, about personal hygiene and how maintaining cleanliness can help your health and mental state of mind a little?
Do any of our readers have any ideas? Please post here.
EmbarrassingIssues - 9-Feb-16 @ 10:01 AM
Thank you for this article. It has some very helpful information and I hope I can implement some of it in a situation that we are dealing with. I attend a 12 Step group and there is a member who is in her 60's who doesn't bath, wears dirty clothes, and doesn't even comb her hair. She has a very foul odor and many people are offended by it. No one knows how to approach her about her lack of hygiene. Her being there has caused many members to stop attending our group. This has been going on for a long time and a few members have brought hygiene products in to the group to donate to anyone who wants them. And some people have given her shampoo and various other products. All to no avail. Lately, her odor has been so bad that we all sit as far away from her as we can. We'd burn a fragrant candle or use room spray, except that some members have asthma and cannot tolerate perfumes. Do you have any suggestions?
Terri - 6-Feb-16 @ 2:36 PM
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