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Hygiene for Seniors: How Often Should an Elderly Person Bathe?

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As people get older, they have less energy to get things done each day. Usually, personal hygiene (specifically bathing) is one of those things that gets neglected. So how often should an elderly bathe? To avoid any skin conditions or infections, a senior should bathe at least once or twice a week. Let’s discuss how you can help a senior to keep clean and in the best health possible.

The Alternatives to Bathing

While cleanliness is very important, keeping clean doesn’t need to involve a full bath or a shower. A sponge bath that ensures all areas are cleaned with soap and water will also serve very well.

There will be days when your elderly person doesn’t feel like taking a bath. On those days, you can try to get them to wipe their faces, underarms, private parts, and feet with a wet cloth.

However, women need to be a little more careful than men when cleaning the private areas. When taking a sponge bath, it’s best to wipe from front to back to avoid any urinary tract infections.

If the weather is hot, you can help them to bathe some more. Be careful when rubbing their skin though, as it’s thinner and more sensitive than that of a younger person.

Why is older skin more sensitive? The older you get, the fewer oils your skin produces, which makes it more prone to tearing and bruising.

Also, you need to use milder bath products that promote moisture retention. These will not only keep them clean but also be gentler on the skin.

You should also incorporate a great moisturizer to lock in some moisture in the skin after bathing. The moisturizer keeps the skin supple and prevents it from drying and cracking.

Are There Any Exceptions to Cleaning Up Once or Twice a Week?

This depends on the mental state of the senior in question.

Some elderly people may suffer from dementia, and they may have more toilet mishaps. This means more frequent baths and showers to avoid infections.

Although it’s a challenge, you can not leave an incontinent or doubly incontinent person without changing their soiled clothes. If the individual sits or lies on an incontinence pad, it has to be changed quite frequently. This prevents their skin from being breached by harmful bacteria and them developing painful skin lesions.

You’ll need to frequently wash and wipe them and provide a fresh change of diaper (or pad) and dry clothing (where applicable).

However, if an elderly person can go to the bathroom without any aid, cleaning up once or twice a week is sufficient.

Body Odor and Aging

Soaps containing persimmon are useful in dealing with body odor

Does your body odor change as you get older? It does and here’s why:

After age 40, our skin generates fewer antioxidants which can lead to changes in our body odor. Our skin contains lipid acid, which oxidizes and creates a new chemical compound called 2-nonenal.

The 2-nonenal is often described as a greasy or grassy smell. It also tends to linger for a while on clothing and bed linens.

Therefore, if you are detecting this smell on your elderly loved one, it’s not because they aren’t bathing enough. This chemical compound is insoluble in soap and water.

The Japanese use soaps containing persimmon, which instantly dissolves up to 97% of nonenal on contact. They also drink a lot of green tea which is high in antioxidants. This helps to slow 2-nonenal production by halting the oxidation of the lipid acids on your elderly person’s skin.

Why Elderly Persons May Not Want to Bathe

There are several reasons why senior citizens may not want to bathe

Some of the reasons why seniors may not want to bathe may include:

Low Income

Some elderly persons have a low income and so can’t afford to purchase bath and grooming supplies in addition to getting the necessities (like food).

Boredom

Retirement without replacement activities can lead to boredom setting in. This, in turn, may make them lose track of time and not realize how long they haven’t taken a bath.

Living Alone and/or Without Social Interactions

Isolation can make an elderly person neglect their hygiene and appearance.

Busyness

If your loved one feels overwhelmed keeping up with chores and ailments, then some things may be neglected. This may include personal hygiene.

Tiredness

Fatigue may be the culprit behind your loved one not taking frequent baths or showers.

Vulnerable to Catching a Cold

Yes, the elderly quickly lose their body heat when exposed to any cold environment. This makes it more likely for them to catch a cold from taking a simple bath or shower. However, using warm water and limiting time spent in the water should reduce this risk.

Fear of Bathroom Accidents

The older you get, the more unstable you are on your feet. So the elderly may fear having a falling accident while taking a bath or a shower. You can try making safety adjustments to their bathroom, but sometimes, that’s not possible. You can set up a FAWSsit™ portable shower stall in any room – you simply need access to a faucet. And just like that: your loved one is ready to have a safe and enjoyable experience getting clean.

Loss of Dignity and Control

Your elderly relative may need help getting clean, but isn’t asking for help. This may be for several reasons such as feeling that it’s demeaning to need assistance, or not wanting to be a bother to anyone.

Another reason your loved one may not want to ask for help is the fear of losing control. They may view their need for help with hygiene tasks as the first step to losing their independence and the ability to live unassisted at home.

Mobility Issues

Mobility and strength challenges may lead to infrequent bathing

Conditions like arthritis, or knee and hip issues, can make moving around the shower or bathtub very painful. So this would make it more likely for seniors to neglect their hygiene.

Reduced Strength and Dexterity

A weakened hand grip and/or impaired dexterity will make your loved one unable to complete regular hygiene routines.

Mental Health Challenges

Depression can make your loved one lose interest in bathing and personal hygiene matters. Also, people who suffer from dementia may have short-term memory loss in the initial stages. Even elderly people without dementia become forgetful with age. This makes them forget when they last had a bath or a shower.

Sight and Hearing Challenges

Aging brings the partial or full loss of eyesight and/or hearing abilities. This slows their movement and makes personal hygiene a more lengthy and tiring process.

Reduced Sense of Smell

Although you may perceive an unpleasant body odor, your loved one may not smell anything. So combined with some forgetfulness, this can mean a lot of time between showers or baths.

Checklist For Assisting the Elderly With Bathing or Showering

Here are some considerations to help seniors with cleaning up once or twice a week

Needing help with something as personal as a bath (or a shower) is a humbling, and at times distressing situation for a person who was once independent.

While no one wants to be assisted in this area, there are clear bathroom hazards for the elderly due to reduced mobility, impaired balance, and lessened dexterity. The steam from a shower can also make a senior feel faint and/or collapse.

Several professions provide bathing services for the elderly:

  • Home care aides
  • Home health aides
  • Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs)

But you should be aware that being bathed by a stranger could embarrass your loved one. Also, being bathed by a family member could be even more embarrassing – especially if they are of the opposite gender. So hiring a professional caregiver (preferably of the same gender) may be the lesser of both evils.

Here are some useful tips to help an elderly person feel better with needing assistance to take a bath or shower:

Provide a Welcome Distraction

Professional caregivers may keep up a steady conversation to distract the client and make them feel less self-conscious. Others may turn on a favorite radio station or play the client’s favorite music so that they can sing songs together. Dementia patients respond very well to music and singing. This makes the whole bathing process much easier.

Be Prepared

Make sure that you have the client’s favorite soap, shampoo, lotions, and warm towels on hand. You don’t want to scramble for things that you need when the elderly person is wet and slippery. Use large, beach-sized towels to completely wrap the person in warmth and privacy immediately after cleansing and rinsing are complete.

Prepare the Environment

Make bath time as comfortable and relaxing as possible

Showers should have handheld showerheads, plastic chairs at a comfortable height, handrails, and non-slip floor surfaces. Make sure that the lighting is soft and not harsh. Glaring lights are very distressing for dementia patients. Decorate the bathing area to resemble a spa: include nice scents and soothing background music to help the client relax.

Use Reminders

Use gentle reminders to help a client set his/her mind towards the bathing process. A favorite relative may be a useful ally in this process. But if a senior is refusing to take a bath, find out the reason(s) for the resistance and make the necessary adjustments. You can also use sponge baths if the client is refusing to take a full bath or shower.

Keep the Person Comfortable

Make sure that the client is comfortable. Maintain the right room and water temperature. Always test the water’s temperature for safety.

Some people may want to be partially clothed throughout, only revealing the parts that need to be cleaned each time. Always reduce the time that a patient is nude. Always ask the client if they want to wash their private areas. Don’t just assume that they need help to wash those sensitive spots.

Be Respectful

The worst thing you can do is to completely strip the patient, soap them all over, rinse them off in a surprising deluge of water, then wrap them in a towel. This is a sensitive time. Always be respectful and exercise the golden rule (we may all get much older and also need assistance).

Respect the client’s wishes about how much they want you to be involved in the bathing process. Dementia patients always like to be in control of at least one aspect of their bath time. So you can allow them to hold a towel or a washcloth to feel empowered.

Bathing can be a stressor and an emotional trigger. Studies have shown that bath times can lead to agitation (especially for dementia patients). Seniors may also lash out at caregivers as they may feel fear, shame, anger, and even violation when someone is bathing them. Be sure to exercise more sensitivity, patience, and consideration in such situations.

Hygiene for Seniors: Hair Washing

Another topic related to bathing is hair washing. Seniors will need assistance in keeping their hair clean. And if they have mobility challenges, you may need to wash their hair while they’re in a bed or wheelchair. This is where FAWSsit™ portable showers come in handy. All you need is a faucet and you can easily transform any room into a self-contained area for bathing and hair washing.

How Frequently Should an Elderly Person Wash Their Hair?

Our hair strands collect dirt each day, but the most important reason for regular hair washing is oil.

This oil is called sebum and it is naturally produced by the sebaceous glands on our scalps. As sebum is produced, it slowly works its way from the scalp to the ends of our hair strands. It will continue to accumulate until the hair is washed.

Aging means that seniors’ scalps don’t produce as much sebum as before. So they may only need to wash their hair once per week. Elderly persons who are resistant to hair washing will benefit from dry shampoos to keep their hair clean between wet washing sessions.

How to Wash a Senior’s Hair

Here are some tips to wash an elderly person’s hair

You need to have your shampoo of choice, a few washcloths and towels, a cup for pouring warm water, and a washbasin on hand. Positioning a washbasin directly behind a person’s wheelchair can make it easier to wash their hair. There is even an inflatable version of the washbasin that is quite useful for washing the hair of bedridden individuals.

Position a towel around the person’s neck to help keep them dry. Also, give them a dry washcloth to keep the water out of their eyes.

Get the hair wet with warm water. Then place a small amount of shampoo (the size of a dime) in one palm. You don’t want to use too much shampoo, because you’ll have to rinse a lot more to get the person’s hair clean. Rub your hands together. Apply the shampoo to the wet hair and gently work it into a lather from the scalp to the end of the strands. Rinse the hair once or twice with warm water to remove all the product. Then towel dry the hair and style as needed.

A Cautionary Note for Washing Senior’s Hair

When you’re washing your hair, you know just the right amount of pressure to apply. But this is more difficult to gauge when you’re washing someone else’s hair. Always bear in mind that a senior’s scalp is more fragile and prone to breaking. So wear disposable gloves and exert as little pressure as possible to avoid any discomfort or scalp damage. Make use of as many assistive devices as you need. There are not only portable hair washing basins, but also hair washing chairs, and many other devices.  Make sure that the hair washing experience is a pleasant one for the senior and an easy process for yourself.

Let Us Help You Make Bathing and Hair Washing Simple and Easy!

Explore how FAWSsit™ portable showers can make bath time much easier

Now you know the answer to the question: “How often should an elderly person bathe?” We invite you to use our useful tips to help your loved one to bathe and wash their hair. Don’t have the funds for an expensive bathroom remodel or addition? FAWSsit™ portable showers are the solution that you need! Our self-contained shower stalls require no assembly or construction. All you need is access to a faucet and bath time can begin! If you are not sure which model will work for your case, you can sign up for a free consultation. Let FAWSsit™ help you keep the senior in your care clean, healthy, and happy with zero hassles!

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