Support for family and carers
How To Maintain Good Hygiene For Someone You Care For
Maintaining good personal hygiene is important for any person’s wellbeing. If you care for someone who is unable to easily bath or shower, you are helping them to maintain their dignity. While maintaining good hygiene for someone can be a challenge, you are doing them a great service.
In this guide, we’ve put together a guide to help you support the people you care for in their daily personal hygiene routine.
Why is it important to maintain good hygiene for someone you are looking after?
As a carer, you already know that it is important to keep your family member or client clean and dry. Not only will this keep them healthier and happier, but it will also help them maintain their dignity at a time when they may feel vulnerable.
Older adults, especially if they have other underlying health problems will benefit enormously from help with their personal hygiene, which at the same time will improve their overall sense of wellbeing. By helping them with this, you are making a positive impact on their mental and physical wellbeing.
Poor hygiene can cause all kinds of problems, including skin infections, urinary tract infections, discomfort, and itching. It can also reduce a person’s self-esteem.1 Of course, accidents might happen, but when they do, it’s important to help the person clean themselves and get into a fresh change of clothing. as soon as possible.
Things to do regularly
As a carer, there are a few things you can do to help the person with their daily hygiene routine2:
- Wash their hands with skin-friendly soap or body wash and warm water after going to the toilet, and before meal times, and pat their hands dry.
- Clean and clip their finger and toe nails (unless they are diabetic. In this case, it may need to be done by a professional).
- Change any dressings or bandages (this may need to be done by a professional).
- For men, shave their face, or trim their beard.
- Wash their genitals and bottom every day using a cleanser designed for intimate hygiene. Ensure that they are dry before dressing them.
- Brush their teeth at least twice a day, or ensure that their dentures are clean.
- Book them regular dental checks to ensure that their teeth and gums are in good health.
- Assist them to have a bath or shower at least twice per week. Ensure that they are fully dry before dressing.
- Provide them with clean and dry clothing to wear, including clean socks and undergarments.
- Regularly wash and dry their bedding and towels.
- Apply a light moisturising lotion (suitable for their skin type) to their hands, feet, and other dry patches on their skin. This will prevent dry and cracked skin.
- Don’t hesitate to ask them about their preferences. Taking a few extra moments to style their hair the way they like it will help them feel like themselves.
How do you help someone else wash and bathe?
Washing and bathing are some of the most intensely private activities in which we engage. Being washed and bathed by someone else can be embarrassing and make individuals feel shameful.
To respect the dignity of the person you care for, remind them that it is normal for people in their condition to need help. You’re there to be helpful, so don‘t hesitate to tell them that you don’t judge them or make them feel uncomfortable.
Some people become fearful of bathwater as they age, while others can feel overwhelmed by overhead showerheads.3 If possible, arrange to have their bathroom fitted with useful bathing and shower adaptations. These include specialised recliners and tub seats, which can go a long way in reducing anxiety around slips and falls. There are also shampoo caps available for people with a water phobia, which will wash their hair without the use of water.
In order to make the bathing experience as comfortable and pleasant as possible, follow these bathing solutions for the elderly:
- Ask them if they want and need your help, and allow them as much independence/privacy as is safe.
- Play music or a radio programme that they enjoy, and that they are familiar with.
- Use a handheld shower nozzle to help them reach all areas of their body.
- If the person is confused or disoriented, gently explain what is happening as you go.
- If the person is extremely resistant, consider trying again in a few hours. If this does not help, you may need to give them a sponge bath or bed bath. Try to use cleansing products that are gentle on the skin, and that are pH balanced to prevent dryness.
- If appropriate, consider donning your own swimming costume and demonstrate some of the washing motions. This may help to jog their memory of bathing.
- After their bath and/or shower, ensure that they are completely dry. Getting them dressed while they’re still damp or wet can lead to skin irritation. Towel dry them and then allow them to air dry for a few more minutes. If they have rolls of skin or fat, ensure these areas are fully dry. You can also apply lotions or powders, using skincare products designed for these unique needs.
Safety in the bathroom is an issue for even the most healthy and able-bodied people! Most bathrooms are quite small, and fitted with porcelain fixtures that can cause injury, and slips and falls can happen on wet floors. In order to prevent accidents in the bathroom when helping someone bathe or use the toilet, do the following:
- Keep the room a comfortable temperature so that the person isn’t trying to rush out of a cold room.
- Clean up all spilt water, and ensure that the floor is not slippery. Lay down bath mats that have rubberised backings, ensuring that they grip the floor.
- Adhere grippy stickers to the bathtub or shower cubicle floor, giving an extra amount of traction, to prevent falls.
- Test the water in the shower or bath, and ensure that it isn’t scalding hot. However, remember that older people feel the cold more acutely, so ensure that the temperature isn’t too cold.
- Install safety railings, raised toilet seats, bathtub chairs, and/or handrails to help them use the toilet or take a bath/shower.
- Remove the locks from the bathroom door. While it is normal to want locks on the bathroom door in order to maintain privacy, paramedics or other family members might need to access the room in an emergency.
- As you care for your client or loved one, always remember to look out for your own safety. It can be very easy to slip and fall yourself as you are helping a person to get out of the tub.
Maintaining the dignity of the person you care for
Everyone deserves their dignity.4 While you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed or even irritated at times, try to maintain your sense of compassion as you assist them with their hygiene needs. Protect their modesty as much as possible, as some people will feel embarrassed or ashamed when undressed.
Most importantly, speak to them (if possible). Give them as much freedom and autonomy as possible, and let them tell you what they feel most comfortable with. Perhaps they need less help that you have been providing, or they want a chance to bathe alone for a few moments. If you are in doubt about their capacity to do so, speak with their GP or nurse for advice.
Continence care tips
Up to 1 in 3 people in Australia struggle to control their flow of urine.5 Others have functional incontinence, in which mobility issues prevent them from getting to the toilet in time.
As a result, the person you are caring for might need assistance to use the toilet, or to change their continence pads. Reassure them that you are comfortable dealing with their continence products, and that it isn’t a burden. Some people might appreciate some humour, while others might want to avoid the topic and remain silent during the process.
Most importantly, you should always use reliable continence products that absorb liquids and wick moisture away from the person’s body. Change their continence pad and clean them as soon as you can. Leaving them to sit in their waste is not only bad for their self-esteem, it can cause urinary infections and damage to the skin.
Speak with a continence adviser from your local health care provider for more advice. They might also be able to provide you with treatment, equipment and supplies that can help, including waterproof pants, plastic or PVC bed covers, and continence pads.
Good hygiene is always important
Everyone feels their best when they are clean, dry, and wearing fresh clothing, and the person you are caring for is no different. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or you are in need of more support, get in touch with your local health care provider. They can help to advise you on resources and assistance for you and the person you care for. Just remember you are not alone.
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