Opening a dialogue about seniors’ ability to manage their own hygiene and personal care is important for ensuring that overall wellbeing and health are properly cared for.
It is normal for a decline to occur in the personal hygiene that seniors are able to maintain on their own as they move further into older age, and there are a whole bunch of possible contributors to these changes.
The Importance of Hygiene
Issues with personal hygiene can 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 might become more reluctant to spend time with them, and this can result in amplified feelings of isolation. Hygiene is also connected to health in a whole host of different ways. Whether poor hygiene itself causes a health issue, or a seniors’ lack of ability or willingness to perform everyday tasks associated with maintaining good hygiene is indicative of a larger overarching health problem, keeping an eye on the state of seniors’ personal hygiene is important for many reasons.
Decline in Personal Hygiene
A whole bunch of different factors can come into play when it comes to a decline in seniors’ personal hygiene.
- Physical Challenges: When mobility changes with age or health problems, some personal care tasks become more frequently avoided. Cleaning and tending to some parts of the body can 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 support for areas like the shower, and arranging assistance for tending to areas like the feet (that may be harder for seniors to reach) can help with overall upkeep.
- Memory Problems: Memory-loss can impact the maintenance of seniors’ personal hygiene routines by leading seniors to forget to perform routine tasks such as bathing, brushing teeth, changing or washing clothes, and so on. Setting up a system of reminders can help seniors remember to perform these tasks and can keep them accountable.
- 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 their odour. Rather than criticizing seniors for having an unpleasant body odour or for wearing too much scented product, suggest changes in a kind and respectful way.
- Depression: Depression is something that a large number of seniors face in older age, and along with depression comes a decrease in both motivation and the emotional strength required to carry out even the most mundane of tasks, such as taking a shower. Meet with a healthcare professional to talk about mental health concerns and discuss how best to work through the symptoms that impact routines and daily life.
Starting a Conversation
For many seniors, the reluctance to talk about personal hygiene comes because of the underlying fear that a large amount of personal independence will be lost if they admit to needing help with daily tasks like those required for maintaining personal hygiene. A lot of seniors are concerned that, once they allow someone to come and help them with tasks like showering, keeping themselves clean, washing clothes, and other such tasks, they will be relinquishing a significant amount of pride and independence. The personal, and somewhat sensitive, nature of these topics necessitates that conversations take place in a way that makes sure seniors feel confident that agreeing to accept help or setting up new routines is not a forfeit of independence, but is rather just a new aspect of their stage of life that should not be accompanied by feelings of shame. Make suggestions, rather than directions, for personal hygiene routines and practices, and make sure the conversation is conducted as an open and engaging dialogue, rather than an intervention. It can also be helpful to talk about options available through providers such as Retire-At-Home that can help seniors better manage their hygiene and overall wellbeing.
Discussing personal hygiene can feel awkward or uncomfortable for both seniors and those who care for them, but discussing worries and changes that may need to be made to improve overall hygiene is important. Approaching the subject in a thoughtful and respectful way can help to make seniors feel more open to discuss personal hygiene, and can help them feel open and able to make changes and begin implementing practices that will help keep them healthier.