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How to Discuss Personal Hygiene with Seniors

By Deniese Williams, RN

Personal hygiene can become a troubling issue for older loved ones. They may wear the same dirty, rumpled clothes day after day, neglect to brush their teeth or forget to bathe entirely. What should you do when you observe that they no longer seem to care about their appearance? Here are some suggestions.

How to Address Personal Hygiene Issues in a Sensitive Manner

  • Start a calm, nonjudgmental conversation: Approach the subject in a gentle, calm and positive manner. Understand that problems with cleanliness and hygiene in the elderly may be caused by underlying issues like depression, decreased vision or sense of smell or even types of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Keep that in mind when discussing sensitive issues.
  • Don’t impose unrealistic standards: While your typical routine may include a daily shower, that might not be necessary for mom or dad. Remember, if they are not particularly active, they may not need daily bathing. In fact, too many showers or baths can lead to dry, irritated skin.
  • Set up outings with friends: A lunch date with a long-time friend or a shopping trip to the mall may provide a good reason to spruce up. It’s easy for people to let appearances slip if they are largely homebound. Getting out is a good motivator.
  • Make sure they are physically able: Lack of hygiene could be related to the accumulated aches and pains of aging – or even the fear of slipping and falling. Arthritis, poor coordination or joint pain make getting in the shower or tub difficult. Installing sturdy safety bars or shower/bath chairs could help.
  • Check their medications: Mixing meds can trigger numerous side effects that, in turn, may cause drowsiness, lack of coordination or general malaise. Failing to shower or bathe under such circumstances can be an unintended consequence.
  • Perhaps the biggest concern about poor hygiene is that it can be a precursor or symptom of other, more serious age-related disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease. At The Cabana at Jensen Dunes, we are attuned to the many issues that can affect older adults – and we have dedicated, experienced, caring team members on duty 24/7 to address them. To learn more, please call us today at 772-322-1000.

Personal Hygiene Care for Adults

It’s not true that adults and the elderly lack personal hygiene, simply that they are in a different situation than many of their family and friends are familiar with. It may be difficult for them to perform personal hygiene tasks, including the activities of daily living (ADLs) like getting dressed or bathing. They may also be influenced by medications and other components that are necessary for their well-being, as we saw above.

If you’ve noticed personal hygiene issues in an elderly friend or relative, there are a few things you can do to help after you’ve initiated the first conversation and identified the problem:

  • Offer help gently: If an older friend or relative is having trouble caring for their own personal hygiene needs, you or someone they’re close to can offer to help. Getting fresh clothes may be easier if you do the laundry so they don’t have to lift heavy baskets or detergent bottles, for instance.
  • Seek a professional medical opinion: If you’re worried that the personal hygiene issues are caused by a more serious concern, such as dementia, then you should take your relative or friend to get a professional diagnosis. Their family physician or a geriatric specialist will be able to help you get the answers you need.
  • Consider a senior living community: Personal hygiene may not be the only part of an individual’s life that’s suffering. If your friend or relative isn’t enjoying activities or being social because it’s more difficult for them to get out, it may be time to move to a retirement community. Retirement communities like The Cabana at Jensen Dunes offer assisted living and memory care neighborhoods that provide help with daily tasks (including personal hygiene care) as well as engaging activities that can significantly improve quality of life.

Focus Personal Hygiene and Support Conversations on Positive Changes

It’s often difficult for individuals to ask for help – something that’s true of people of all ages. When discussing personal hygiene care for the elderly, focus on what they can do and how changes can make a positive impact on their lives. Improving hygiene can greatly improve quality of life and help individuals and families live safer, happier and healthier lives.

At the Cabana at Jensen Dunes, the safety of residents is our top concern, which means we support residents’ personal hygiene as well as their overall well-being. We adapt all our support and care plans to individual residents and the times we’re living through, including implementing additional safety measures during the coronavirus.

Contact us for more information on our Florida retirement community, including our dementia and Alzheimer’s care options. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and help you find the right support for your family and friends.


About the Author

Deniese Williams, Executive Director of The Cabana at Jensen Dunes, is a registered nurse with a Master of Science in Nursing and more than 20 years of experience in the long-term care industry.


Editor’s Note:

This blog was originally written in 2017, but has been updated with new information for clarity and relevancy.