Maintaining proper hygiene is important for people of all ages, especially seniors.
Broaching subjects related to hygiene and personal care with seniors can feel uncomfortable, but opening a dialogue concerning seniors’ ability to continue to address their own hygiene and perform personal care tasks is important for ensuring that overall wellbeing and health are maintained. It is common for a noticeable decline to occur in the personal hygiene levels of seniors as they age, and there are multiple possible contributors to these changes that loved-ones and caregivers of seniors should be aware of and monitor on a consistent basis.
The Importance of Hygiene
Matters of personal hygiene have the capacity to impact much more than just seniors’ outward cleanliness. When seniors’ personal hygiene has declined to the point that it becomes detectable or prominent, seniors may notice that friends and visitors may become more reluctant to spend time with them, and this can result in greater feelings of isolation. Hygiene is also linked to health in an array of meaningful ways. Whether poor hygiene itself leads to a health issue, or a seniors’ lack of ability or willingness to perform everyday tasks associated with maintaining appropriate hygiene is indicative of a larger overarching health concern, keeping an eye on the state of seniors’ personal hygiene is important.
Decline in Personal Hygiene
A diverse array of factors can contribute to a notable decline in seniors’ personal hygiene, and becoming aware of these possible causes can help to provide insight on the situation, and can help to direct conversations or inform decisions.
- Depression: Depression is something that many seniors face in older age, and along with depression comes a decrease in both motivation and the emotional strength required to perform even the most mundane tasks, like taking a shower. Meet with a healthcare professional to talk about mental health concerns and discuss how best to work through the symptoms that affect routines and daily life.
- Memory Problems: The absent-mindedness that comes along with memory-loss can affect the upkeep of seniors’ personal hygiene routines by leading them to forget to perform basic tasks such as bathing, brushing teeth, changing or washing clothes, and so on. Creating a system of reminders can help seniors remember to engage in these tasks and can keep them accountable.
- Physical Challenges: When mobility is altered as a result of aging or health problems, some personal care tasks may start to be avoided more often. Cleaning and tending to some parts of the body may become difficult or uncomfortable, taking a shower may start to become a stressful experience when the risk of a fall increases, and even reaching or bending to grab products and items for washing can become challenging. Setting up supports for areas like the shower, and enlisting help or assistance for attending to areas like the feet (that may be harder for seniors to reach) can help with overall upkeep.
- Sensory Changes: Sensory changes in how we experience sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations is a normal part of growing older. This means that seniors might not always have the same awareness of the state of their odour. Rather than criticizing seniors for having an unpleasant body odour or for wearing too much scented product, suggest changes in a gentle and respectful way.
Opening a Dialogue
For a large portion of seniors, the hesitation to talk about personal hygiene comes as a result of the overarching fear that a major degree of personal independence will be forfeited if they admit to needing help with daily tasks like those involved in personal hygiene routines. A lot of seniors worry that, once they open up to having someone help them with tasks like showering, keeping themselves clean, washing clothes, and other such tasks, they will be giving up a notable amount of pride and independence. The personal, and potentially sensitive, nature of these topics requires that dialogues take place in a way that makes sure seniors feel confident that agreeing to accept help or creating new routines is not a forfeit of independence, but is rather just a new part of their new stage of life that should not be accompanied by feelings of shame. Make recommendations, rather than prescriptions, for personal hygiene routines and practices, and make sure the dialogue is conducted as a conversation, rather than an intervention.
Talking about personal hygiene can be awkward for both seniors and their caregivers, but having a conversation about problems and alterations that may need to be made in order to improve overall hygiene is important. Broaching the topic in a respectful and considerate way can help to make seniors feel more open to talking about their personal hygiene, and can motivate them to make changes and integrate practices that will help keep them clean and healthy.