Good hygiene is important and needs to be addressed. I started thinking about this back on letter B when talking about bodily care and the work involved in having good hygiene. But there is an additional issue or problem that I have noticed with almost every person I’ve helped. It’s not just having good hygiene, it’s convincing them that they need to have it.
All that showering, brushing and grooming is work and people often don’t care. Some are vehemently opposed. Who would think? But those basics of hygiene, if built into a routine, will keep your person healthier, and prevent problems. You can keep them simple.
For instance, elderly people don’t need to shower every day, or even every other day. They aren’t working up a sweat usually, they aren’t playing in the dirt (are they?). Their naturally drier skin doesn’t need frequent soaping, and as Mom’s doctor tells her, soap is only needed on the places that smell. I’ll let you figure out which four places those are.
Sadly, people with dementia often don’t remember those routines that they have followed all their life. As a caretaker, you become a coach – helping them know when something is needed and what the steps are in accomplishing it. Something as basic as toileting can be suddenly confusing. Accidents can occur simply because they don’t remember what to do first, second, third, etc…
My aunt would sometimes stand at the bathroom counter and ask me “why am I in here?” I would remind her “You are here to brush your teeth. Take that brush and I’ll help you put toothpaste on it.” It’s much easier for me to be patient and helpful when I know there is a real reason for the forgetfulness.
I also don’t like to ask my elders to make too many decisions. I suggest as though it has already been decided. If it needs to be done, I don’t ask them if they want to do it.
“It’s been a few days since you showered. Let’s get it done today.”
“Something got spilled on your shirt. Here’s a clean one to put on.”
“Here’s a washcloth so you can clean your face.”
I like to give grace to the elderly and others who aren’t perfectly groomed because I know that some things are superficial and not worth mentioning if it will embarrass them. That is, if I am not their caregiver. If I am their caregiver I have to help them avoid embarrassment by telling them what they would want to know.
This was hard for me at first, but I got over it. If I know the husband can’t see well and wouldn’t want to go out with spaghetti sauce in his mustache, I need to tell him it’s there. If my uncle has two inch long eyebrow hair, I need to offer to trim for him. (I mean, if it’s on purpose, he can still say no…).
You might think you can’t wash and set a woman’s hair, or shave a man’s face but any caretaker can learn those things to some degree. Even if they aren’t done perfectly, it’s better than not having them done at all. Even if they protest at first, most people are ultimately thankful for the care.