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Tips for Personal Hygiene and Bathing

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Maintaining personal hygiene enhances an individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing. But when an elder becomes dependent on you to keep their skin, nails, hair and mouth clean, they can experience a deep loss of independence and self-esteem. Helping them to smell fresh and look their best can be a great booster to your elder and to you. This guide provides helpful tips on how you can help an elder maintain and improve their personal hygiene.

Hygiene doesn’t just keep a person clean – it can:

  1. Help keep the skin intact to fight infection and prevent injuries;
  2. Remove from the skin substances in which bacteria will grow, reducing the risk of infection;
  3. Keep the mouth and gums healthy, which makes eating easier and therefore promotes good nutrition;
  4. Make the person more comfortable and relaxed;
  5. Boost the person’s morale.

A caregiver might be called on to bathe a bed-bound elder or assist a more mobile person with their daily routine. Your home health aide, a nurse or your doctor can give you assistance and training in how to maintain personal hygiene. These suggestions should not be substituted for the advice of an expert who knows you and your elder’s medical situation. A professional may suggest specific hygiene regimens for your case.

In most cases, it is best to assist the person rather than do all the work for them. For example, if a person still has movement of their arms, they can brush their own teeth and wash their own face. This keeps them from becoming completely dependent, relieves the workload of the caregiver and helps them exercise their motor skills. Some elderly or demented people have a fear of water or showers or fight against attempts to bathe them. Address the root fear – which may be a fear of falling (install handrails), modesty (do not undress the person fully and bathe part of the body at a time), or cold (keep the person covered or partly dressed and dry each body part as you bathe it)

When bathing a person who is confined to a bed, you can ease the burden by enlisting a partner to help you or encouraging your elder to participate in the bath. To make the bath go smoothly, gather all of your supplies ahead of time and have them near the bedside. Place towels or plastic sheets around the person and on the floor. Newspapers on the floor absorb runoff and prevent you from slipping!

  1. Gather all supplies ahead of time (towels, washcloth, a light cotton blanket, mild liquid soap, lotion and miscellaneous toiletries);
  2. Fill a basin 2/3 full with warm water (approximately 120 degrees F.) and replace water as it cools or gets dirty;
  3. Avoid drafts – close any doors or windows;
  4. Always wash your hands before you start;
  5. Use a light cotton blanket to cover the person during the bath to provide privacy and warmth.

An individual may not need a full bath every day. But a person’s face, underarms and private areas should be kept clean daily or on a schedule recommended by a nurse or physician. Encouraging an elder to keep themselves clean enhances their motor skills and their own sense of independence. When caring for a member of the opposite sex or a parent, both the caregiver and the care-receiver may be embarrassed. Try to be soothing and supportive

When washing a person, work on the face and upper torso first, then each side of the body from the arm and down to the leg. Use a cotton blanket or clothing to cover body parts until you are ready to wash them and after they have been washed. Then turn the person on one side so the back faces you and wash the shoulders, back and buttocks. Dry each body part to prevent chills and then gently rub in lotion to prevent drying and soothe the skin. Finish with the private areas, working from front to back with a fresh basin of warm water. Clean and dry areas well. Special handiwipes may be a convenient way to keep these areas clean, but consider their relatively high cost. Follow any special instructions provided by a doctor or nurse.

Hair Care

Keeping a person’s hair clean is difficult if they are confined to a bed or unable to get to a source of running water like a shower or sink. But you can do it with the aide of a shampoo trough that you can make or buy from a home care supply store. When shampooing in bed:

  1. Gather all equipment;
  2. Place absorbent towels and a waterproof sheet over a pillow;
  3. Put a shampoo basin or an inflatable sink on top of this;
  4. Make sure head and shoulders are at the edge of the bed;
  5. Use pitchers of warm water to rinse.


  1. Consider installing sturdy grab bars to help the person get in and out of the tub;
  2. Apply non-slip safety mats or treads at the bottom of the tub or shower to prevent falls;
  3. Place a nonskid bathmat (not a towel) on the floor in front of the shower or tub;
  4. Place a shower bench or seat in the shower so the person can sit down while he/she showers;
  5. Check and adjust water temperature prior to patient getting into the tub -- Never turn on hot water when the person is in the shower;
  6. Do not give a bath sitting in the bathtub unless recommended by the doctor or nurse – It may be difficult to get back out.

Mouth Care

  1. Raise the head of the bed unless contraindicated – otherwise, turn person on his/her side;
  2. Tuck a towel under the chin;
  3. Use a soft toothbrush;
  4. Brushing movement should be away from the gums.


  1. Removing the upper palate – Grasp the inner and outer surfaces on both sides of the plate. Insert your forefingers over the upper edge of the plate and press until the seal breaks between the denture and the gums. Pull plate forward to remove;
  2. Removing the lower plate – Grasp the inner and outer surfaces with the thumb and forefinger. Turn slightly and pull the denture up and out;
  3. Cleaning dentures – Put a towel in a basin half-filled with warm water. Use a stiff brush and scrub dentures carefully with toothpaste and rinse;
  4. Inserting dentures – Wet dentures with cool water. Apply even, gentle pressure on both sides of the upper palate to work it into place in the person’s mouth. Insert lower dentures last.

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