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Home health care

Washing An Elderly Person

Maintaining good personal hygiene is an essential part of caring for an elderly person. It enhances a person's physical and mental well-being. However, if you are a carer, you should be aware that when a person becomes dependent on another person for personal hygiene, they can experience a deep loss of independence and self-esteem which can lead to agitation and depression.

This article explains the best way to approach keeping an elderly person clean.

The benefits of personal hygiene

The benefits of good personal hygiene are :

  1. It helps keep the skin intact and prevents infections;
  2. It removes substance from the skin where bacteria can grow, thus reducing the risk of infection;
  3. It helps keep the teeth and gums health, which in turn promotes good nutrition ;
  4. It makes the person feel good about themselves;

Assisting in a daily routine

The level of intervention required depends on the needs of the elderly person. You might be called on to bathe a bed-bound elderly person or assist a more mobile elderly person with their daily personal hygiene routine.

Importance of professional advice

Whatever the level of intervention required, you need advice from professional carers. A nurse or doctor can give you assistance and training on how to manage personal hygiene routines. In most cases, it is best to help the person with personal hygiene rather than doing everything for them. For example, if a person can still move their arms, they can brush their own teeth and wash their own face - albeit slowly. The advantage of this is that it keeps them from becoming completely dependent on you, relieves your work load as the carer and helps maintain mobility.

Fear of washing

Some elderly people have a fear of water or showers and will fight against attempts to wash or bathe them. The solution here is to look for the root fear. For example, it can be a deep rooted fear of falling, to which the solution is to install handrails. Or it may be an modest issue, in which case do not undress the person fully, just wash one part of the body at a time and keep the person covered or partly dressed.

Bed baths for the elderly

If the person you are caring for is confined to bed, you may need to perform a bed bath. If possible, enlist a partner for this process, or encourage the elderly person to participate in the bath. It's a good idea to gather everything you need in advance and place them close to the bedside. Place towels or plastic sheets around the person and on the floor. If you do not have carpet, newspapers on the floor will absorb runoff and prevent you from slipping.

Tips for bed baths

  1. Gather everything you need in advance (water containers, towels, light cotton blanket, flannels, liquid soap, lotion and preferred toiletries);
  2. Always wash your hands before you start;
  3. Try to maintain the water temperature at 120 degrees F;
  4. Always test it first and replace the water as it cools or gets dirty;
  5. Make sure the room is warm and there are no drafts or open windows ;
  6. For privacy and warmth, use a light cotton blanket to cover the person during the bed

When washing a person in bed, start on the face and upper body area first, then each side of the body from the arm and down to the leg. Use a thin blanket to cover parts of the body until you are ready to wash them. After they have been washed and dried, you can replace the blanket for modesty. Then carefully turn the elderly person on one side so the back faces towards. you can then wash the shoulders, back and bottom. Finally, wash the private areas, working from front to back with a fresh basin of warm water. Special wipes may be a convenient way to keep these areas clean, but they can be expensive. It's very important to dry each part of the body very carefully to prevent chills. When you have finished washing and drying an area, you can gently rub in lotion to prevent drying and soothe the skin. Always seek professional advice before you give an elderly person a bed bath in case there are any medical consideration that you should take into account.

Bed bath mouth care

  1. Make the elderly person sit up if possible, otherwise, turn the person on his or her side;
  2. Tuck a towel under the elderly person's chin;
  3. Use a soft toothbrush and gentle toothpaste;
  4. Brushing movement should be away from the gums;
  5. Have a glass of water available so the person can rinse their mouth

Frequency of bathing

An elderly person may not need a full bath every day. However, you will need to wash a person’s face, underarms and private areas on a daily basis.

Dealing with embarrassment

Embarrassment, on the part of the care giver or the elderly person is not unusual. If you are a care giver, remember that you are performing a much needed and important role. Try to be soothing and supportive and maintain dignity throughout the process.

Looking after an elderly person's hair

Washing an elderly person's hair can be difficult if they are confined to a bed or unable to get to a source of running water like a shower or basin. However, it is possible if you use a bed shampoo basin or inflatable basin that you can make or buy from a care aids shop. Here are some tips if you are shampooing an elderly person's hair in bed:

  1. Gather together all the equipment you need before you begin;
  2. Place plenty of absorbent towels and a waterproof sheet over the pillow;
  3. Place the shampoo basin on top of this;
  4. Carefully wash and rinse the hair.

Bathing and taking showers

If the person you are caring for is mobile, you may be able to help them have a bath or shower. Here are some tips:

  1. Make sure the elderly person's bath has strong grab rails to help them get in and out of the bath;
  2. Make sure the bath or shower has a non-slip mat at the bottom;
  3. Place a non-skid bathmat (with a rubber base)) on the floor in front of the shower or bath;
  4. Place a shower seat in the shower so the person can sit down if necessary;
  5. Always check the temperature of the water in the bath or shower before the elderly person gets in;
  6. If the elderly person prefers to bath or shower on their own, make sure they do not lock the bathroom door.

Dealing with dentures

Removing and cleaning dentures can be a tricky procedure if yo have not done it before. Here is some advice on removing and cleaning denture:

  1. Remove the upper palate first by holding the the inner and outer surfaces of the denture on both sides of the plate. You can then put your forefingers over the upper edge of the plate and press until the seal breaks between the denture and the gums. All you need to do then is pull the plate forward to remove;
  2. Remove the lowe plate by holding the the inner and outer surfaces of the denture with the thumb and forefinger. Turn slightly and pull the denture up and out;
  3. Clean the denture in warm water. Use a tooth brush and tooth paste to scrub dentures carefully. Then rinse with clean water;
  4. To replace the dentures, wet them with cold water water. Apply even, gentle pressure on both sides of the upper palate and work it into place in the elderly person's mouth. Then you can carefully insert the lower dentures.

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