There are many reasons that older adults may neglect personal hygiene as they age. The loss of sense of smell may not trigger familiar cues that a bath or shampoo is necessary. Also, the lack of mobility, fear of falling or difficulty in dressing can make a simple shower a real challenge for some aging parents.
Family caregivers can take the lead in assisting with personal hygiene while helping their aging parents or other loved ones maintain dignity and privacy.
You may bathe every day, or several times a week, but your parents and grandparents may not have grown up doing so. They may have bathed once a week or less. Keeping this in mind will not only alleviate stress for you but also help to keep your loved one’s routine in place. Perhaps daily use of wipes on private areas and underarms would be a good alternative to daily bathing.
Many senior ladies are used to having their hair washed and set every week at the salon. This can be an outing that they look forward to and can also help them to maintain good personal hygiene. Senior gentlemen may prefer to separate their bodily washing from their hair washing as well.
Many dementia patients have difficulty with their internal temperature. So, asking them to test the water before they get in the shower or tub may be a good idea. Temperatures that might have been fine previously may suddenly seem too hot or too cold.
Privacy is obviously an issue. Setting the mood to be as relaxing as possible can help. Turning the lights down, making sure the shades are down, and even covering mirrors may help patients to maintain a sense of privacy and dignity. Also, giving them as many choices as possible can be reassuring. Would they like to take a shower or a bath? Would they prefer morning or evening?
Senior gentlemen with dementia still need to maintain the routine of shaving. However, if they shave with a traditional blade they may need to be supervised closely or you may need to do it for them. An electric razor is often a good alternative. If you are able to start this habit early on with them, it may make shaving a bit easier down the road. Routine is very important for dementia patients, so try to make this part of the daily routine.
Those in the early stages of dementia may still be able to brush their own teeth, although they may need to be reminded. An electric toothbrush may make the task easier. If it’s not possible for your loved one to brush his or her own teeth, your dental hygienist will be able to show you how to help out. Again, try to keep it in the daily routine, twice a day if possible.
Your loved one may seem particularly attached to a certain item of clothing, or perhaps he or she picks out clothes that are not appropriate for the weather. What can you do to make it so that getting dressed in the morning doesn’t stress you out the rest of the day? Try to give your loved one choices, but limited ones. Would he or she like blue pants or gray pants? You many find that buying more than one of a beloved item allows your loved one to continue wearing those favorite shirts or pants while you throw the dirty items in the laundry.
Buying comfortable clothes that are easy to put on can help as well. Slip-on shoes with good grip, pants that tie at the waist, and shirts that slip over the head may make dressing time easier for you and for those for whom you care.
Being open to creative problem solving and learning to do old routines in a new way is an important tip for caregivers.