Your personal care or personal hygiene – its not just bathing.
Personal hygiene is all about cleaning and caring for your body. Maintaining good personal hygiene includes bathing, washing your hands, brushing your teeth and wearing clean clothing.
Keeping your body properly cleansed around the clock includes
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day
- washing your hands at appropriate times
- caring for your appearance
- getting an adequate amount of sleep to be able to do all these tasks and feel good in yourself
Taking a daily bath or shower using a mild soap and warm water helps wash away dirt and bacteria that may lead to body odour. Numerous medical conditions and diseases can be avoided or managed by simply keeping your body clean.
Washing your hands throughout the day with soap and water can help ward off the spread of bacteria and viruses. Always clean your hands before preparing food and eating meals and after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
Washing your feet at least once day is also important to good personal hygiene. Dry your feet thoroughly, especially in the bacteria-prone area between your toes. Diabetes can reduce the blood supply to your feet and cause a loss of feeling, known as peripheral neuropathy. This can mean foot injuries don’t heal well and you may not notice if your foot is sore or injured.
Good hygiene, or personal cleanliness, not only helps maintain a healthy self-image, but is important in preventing the spread of infections and disease.
Poor personal hygiene is not an age-specific matter. While children may be less likely to practice good personal hygiene without adult supervision, there are many reasons why personal hygiene may deteriorate suddenly or gradually over time.
In the elderly, it may be due to various mental, psychological and even physical ailments.
- Depression: more common among the elderly than younger adults, poor personal hygiene may be one of the symptoms. Mental and psychological issues can affect both a person’s ability and motivation to perform basic hygiene. Grief, loneliness, fear of illness or deteriorating health. When you’re dealing with depression or some other mental disorder, performing daily hygiene activities can be a battle.
“it’s not that I don’t want to shower… it’s just, I don’t have the energy or motivation to do it. And I struggle with chronic foot pain, so that makes it even harder to stand in a shower stall barefoot”
- Dementia as a result of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or a stroke, losing the ability or willingness to perform self-care tasks necessary for good hygiene.
- Physical impairment which makes daily hygiene routines such as bathing may be a consequence of arthritis and other joint diseases, paralysis, nerve and muscle diseases hard to do, as well as age-related changes in the muscle strength, joint flexibility and coordination.
- Medication may render a loved one incapable, either physically or mentally. In many cases, people understand the importance of good hygiene and wish to practice it, but are prevented from doing so by physical factors that make them unable to accomplish the mechanics of bathing. Medication making feel drowsy, uncoordinated, weak or feeling unwell to carry out daily tasks to maintain personal hygiene and appearance.
- Healthcare experts also note temporary physical limitations on performing self-care — such as post-operative incisions or plaster casts — may follow an illness, injury or hospital stay.
Areas Prone to Odour and Fungal Infection
Unpleasant smells and fungal infections are most commonly experienced in areas of the body that are warm and not often exposed to fresh air: the feet; the genitals and some of our sweat glands.
Smelly Feet – The feet contain lots of sweat glands. If our feet are confined in socks and shoes the sweat has nowhere to ‘evaporate’ and the skin bacteria will in effect attack causing that pungent ‘cheesy’ aroma. There are a variety of reasons why some people suffer more than others.
Most of us take our feet for granted, until pain or problems such as blisters or calluses develop. But it’s important to be kind to your feet and take care of them—before problems arise—and to treat problems before they restrict us doing what we want to do.
7 Top tips for healthy feet
- Trim toenails straight across and not too short. Don’t cut or dig at corners.
- Inspect feet Look for cuts, bruises, blisters, red spots. Feel for lumps or bumps
- Wash regularly and dry thoroughly with a soft towel and an anti-bacterial foot powder or a baby talc
- Allow feet to air when feasible and wear open shoes as much as possible
- Change socks more than once a day if needed
- Wear socks made from cotton or other breathable fabric
- Don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day (if possible, rotate between at least two pairs) and never depend on shoes to “fit better after they’re worn for a while.”
Personal care activities, including washing and bathing, are a common source of anxiety for people with dementia and can also be difficult for carers.
Needing assistance from another person with something so personal can raises many issues not least respecting the person’s privacy. Other reasons why a person with dementia may feel anxious about washing and bathing include:
- deep bath water – reassure them by making sure the bath water is shallow, or by setting up a bath seat for them to use
- overhead showers – some people find the rush of water from an overhead shower frightening or disorientating. A hand-held shower may work better
- self-consciousness – it can be embarrassing to be undressed in front of other people. One way to overcome this is to uncover only the part of their body that you are washing at the time, leaving the rest covered
- isolation – some people may become anxious if they are left on their own and may want you to stay with them while they are washing
- incontinence – this may be a sensitive issue for both of you. If the person has an accident or continence problems, they may feel ashamed. Try to be reassuring and adopt an approach that fits with the nature of your relationship with them. A matter-of-fact approach, or gentle humour, often works well.
- inability to plan – to plan or to remember and inability to perform tasks in sequence. Establish a routine together.
Personal hygiene routines are something most of us take for granted. You get up, wash, brush your teeth, comb your hair, etc. These routines are something that elderly people can find very difficult.
Imagine the effect it would have on you if you could not perform your usual hygiene routine. You would start every day feeling dirty and unprepared. In elderly people, this can lead to agitation, frustration and depression.
Elderly hygiene issues are a cause for concern. Though it can be hard for you to provide and even harder for those you care for to accept, hygiene help is an invaluable part of caregiving.
Don’t be discouraged: It’s possible for you to help your loved one stay clean and healthy while also allowing them to maintain their dignity and as much independence as possible.
How to help your loved one and you, as a carer
Talk about it
This will likely be a hard discussion for both of you, but it’s too important to avoid. Let them know you’re coming from a place of love: You want to help them look and feel their best and keep them safe from health problems like skin or urinary tract infections. Don’t be unkind or focus on what they can’t do. Focus on what they need and what you can do to help them with that.
Create a routine
A personal hygiene routine doesn’t just keep your loved one clean and comfortable – it gives their days more structure, its comforting too.
If there’s a certain time of day or situation in which they’re in their best mood or most clear-minded, plan to help them with washing and grooming then, if possible.
Being organised can help reduce stress. Try to make sure you have everything you need ready to hand before you start.
Family members may also be able to help by leaving out soap and towels to provide a visual cue, reminding the person to wash or perform oral hygiene, or posting a bathing schedule
Don’t insist on more bathing than is necessary
If your loved one is not very mobile, they may not need to take a shower every day. Showering a few times a week, with sponge baths or hygiene wipes in between, may be enough.
Excessive bathing or showering can lead to dry skin, and it can also wash away the natural bacteria and oils that protect the skin against infections.
If skipping a shower doesn’t feel right, there are other ways to cleanse the body without exposing skin to the harshness of frequent bathing.
- Instead of using hot water, using luke-warm water. This helps the skin preserve some of its natural oils.
- Limit use of soaps with fragrances and heavy foaming ingredients as these can irritate the skin and make it more prone to infection.
- Try to make the experience as pleasant and relaxed as possible. Also make sure that the room is warm enough. People with dementia seem to really feel the cold.
Maintaining overall cleanliness and good personal hygiene is important for maintaining a sense of self-confidence.
Consider adaptive hygiene aids
There are many devices that are designed to solve elderly hygiene issues by making it easier for a person to take care of their grooming. Shower chairs, no-rinse bathing wipes and long-handled shower brushes, razors and toenail clippers can all make taking care of personal hygiene safer and easier.
Encourage (a safe level of) independence
Even small things like combing their own hair or putting on their own deodorant can help our elderly loved ones maintain a sense of control over their lives. Tasks like brushing and flossing their teeth may be easier to keep doing independently than other types of grooming. Even managing the smallest task is better than nothing at all
Everyone has good days and bad days, including your loved one. It’s OK to skip a shower occasionally. Give them a sponge bath and some dry shampoo and try doing the real thing again when they’re in a better state of mind.
Reassure them that, despite it being a very personal activity, you are happy to help. Ask how they feel and what they would prefer.
Making light of any muddles or awkwardness may help you both deal better with the situation.
Bathrooms are dangerous because they’re small spaces with lots of hard surfaces and corners. On top of that, sitting down and standing up can cause dizziness or unsteady balance because of changes in blood pressure. That could easily lead to a devastating fall.
Over 80% of all falls in the home, happen in the bathroom. Other risks include potential to be scalded if water is too hot; get locked in; carer strain on their back; fear of falling.
Did you know that people use the toilet 7 times a day on average? That’s why bathroom safety is so important – we’re in there all the time!
Ensuring safe bathing: tips for carers
- Make sure the bathroom is clutter free and well lit, day and night
- Check that the floor is not slippery. Remove loose mats, rugs as they can be a trip hazard.
- Make sure that the room is warm before the person undresses. Older people are more sensitive to heat and cold than younger people.
- Ensure you will not be disturbed or distracted and will not have to leave your loved one alone.
- Check that the water temperature is not too hot or too cold. A heat sensor that sticks to the side of the bath changes colour if the bath water is too hot, which can prevent scalding.
- Consider removing locks from the bathroom door, or replace them with locks that can be opened from the outside. Someone with dementia may lock themselves in and panic, or they may go into the bathroom and then forget why they went in.
- Don’t leave cleaning products out. Your loved one might not be able to recognise them and may not understand the dangers they present.
- Don’t forget your own safety. Because family caregivers don’t get formal training in safe lifting and transfer techniques, it’s too easy to hurt yourself when you’re helping out.
- If you are having to help transfer in and out of the bath, make sure you don’t strain your back.
- Hold on to the person you are helping by the trunk or hips. Do not pull with the arms or legs. It is easy for you both to become unbalanced.
- Always bend at the waist.
If you are in any way concerned, talk to a health care professional (an occupational therapist, doctor or nurse) about a home assessment or home adaptive aids that can help you.
Aids and equipment for washing and bathing
If personal care is becoming difficult, you might find it useful to install some equipment, such as bars and handrails. This equipment can help the person feel more independent and more in control of their situation, and can also make washing and bathing easier and safer. It can also help someone continue to do things for themselves for longer – in their own home. It can also give you – family & carers – the reassurance of your loved ones safety and security.
Information about this sort of equipment is available from an occupational therapist, who you can contact through social services, the GP or district nurse. The service is free of charge. Included at the end of this is a list of useful reference websites.
Your healthcare professional or Occupational Therapist may suggest some of the following:
- Grab bars for extra support when sitting or standing: help with getting in and out of the bath; on and off the toilet
- handrails, which can be attached to the wall near the shower, washbasin or toilet. Floor to ceiling grab poles provide support, even in awkward spaces.
- non-slip strips or stickers attached to the bottom of the bath or shower floor.
- toilet safety frame – easy to install with no tools required, and easy to remove when not needed.
- seats to go in the bath or shower
- raised toilet seat. Available with and without arms, reduce the effort and distance to sit and stand.
- Long handled bathing/toilet tissue aids improve hygiene and protect delicate skin. For ease, cleanliness and comfort.
To browse our range of products and services, visit www.HHADLEssentials.co.uk/shop
To watch our Top Tip Guide on bathing click here
If you have any comments that would you like to add to this or want to talk to us – please call on 01531 635678 – we are based in Herefordshire, England. Do feel free to share with friends or family.
Daily caring for seniors
Foot care with Diabetes
Help caring for someone with Alzheimer’s
Home assessment – what might I need? – free online guide
Independent living at home – full list of facts sheets of general advice on range of daily living equipment and advice when looking to buy
Go compare – trusted comparison site