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Grooming and Hygiene Guide for the Elderly

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenMarch 21, 2016

If you are a caregiver who suddenly finds yourself in the position of having to bathe and groom your elderly loved one, there are some expert tips to help guide you.

A Grooming and Hygiene Guide for the Elderly

The burden often falls on family to recognize the signs that an aging parent might need help with daily living tasks. Poor personal hygiene is a common and often the first sign that Dad or Mom could use some assistance.


This doesn’t necessarily mean that your loved one has to go into assisted living or a nursing home, but they may need some extra help in their home environment.

A Place for Mom expert and geriatric psychologist, Dr. Melissa Henston, notes:

“Aging parents and their children are often in denial that there is a problem until they notice things out of the norm in the everyday living environment. Poor personal hygiene is a sign that Dad or Mom may need help. Daily living tasks sometimes get to be too much as we age, and it’s important for family members and loved ones to step up and address the problem when this happens — even if it is difficult or painful. The problems will not go away and usually need to be addressed in a timely manner. Bathing and grooming is one of the roles many caregivers need to assume.”

If you have assumed the caregiver role and needs some guidance on elder grooming and hygiene, here are some pointers to make the experience a little easier.

1. Have an Open Conversation

Relying on others to help them clean and groom their bodies can be humiliating for many seniors. If all else fails, you may need to get a doctor’s prescription that enforces showering every few days, and then discuss who will help them bathe:

  • Do they prefer a family member to assist?
  • Do they prefer a nurse or caregiver to come to the house to assist?
  • Do they prefer someone of the same or opposite sex to help them shower or shave?

2. Incorporate Their Regular Routines as Much as Possible

If your elderly parent usually bathes in the morning or at night, try to follow their regular routine. If they have specific products, sponges or washcloths, try to incorporate their favorites.

3. Protect Clothing with Plastic Apron

To help you stay dry, wear a protective plastic apron.

4. Install Handrails and Make Handicap Accessible, if Necessary

If your aging parent has poor balance or can’t stand for long periods of time, you may need to make the shower or tub handicap accessible with bars, stools or door openings. A hand-held shower sprayer will also make the experience a little easier to control the cleaning and eliminate mess. You may need the following:

  • Grab bars
  • Non-slip adhesives on bath/shower floor
  • Shower/tup door opening
  • Shower stool or bath bench

5. Have Everything Ready Before Bathing

Before you begin the bathing experience, have sponges, towels, washcloths and shampoo ready. Liquid soaps are easier for faster and more efficient bathing as they can easily be pumped into the washcloth or bathing poof or sponge. It’s important to note that bar soaps can be slippery and more dangerous than liquid soap.

6. Allow Senior to Hold a Towel Around His/Her Body

Modest seniors may feel more comfortable holding towels around their private areas during the experience. Of course the towels will need to be worked around to clean those areas, but you can develop a routine that works for you and your loved one.

7. Clean Under Skin Folds

Skin folds are where bacteria grow, so it’s important to clean under every fold and wrinkle, including breasts, neck, stomach folds and genitalia. These areas will also need to be dried with a towel later to avoid fungal infections.

8. Rinse Thoroughly

Make sure to get all the soap off the senior so that their skin doesn’t get too dry or agitated from the soap. Again, a hand-held shower attachment will help with this process.

9. Pat Dry and Apply Moisturizer

Skin becomes more sensitive with age, so it’s important to pat dry instead of rubbing with a towel. Applying a moisturizer will also help prevent dryness and can even be a bit therapeutic for your senior loved one if you gently massage it into their skin.

10. Only Bathe Every Few Days

As mentioned above, bathing every day isn’t necessary and will only make skin more dry and can be too exhausting for both senior and caregiver.

Maintain Other Hygiene

In addition to bathing, maintaining dental hygiene and shaving is also important. Seniors need to see their dentists every six months or more, depending on their medical conditions. Dentures should be checked regularly for proper fit, and gums need to be checked for gum disease or cancer.

Here are some other things to practice to keep up your senior’s good oral hygiene:

  • Introduce an electronic toothbrush for more ease and effectiveness with toothbrushing
  • Attach the brush to the senior’s hand with a wide elastic band to help them hold, if necessary
  • Clean mouth with swabs designed for oral hygiene
  • Consult dentist as to what toothbrush and toothpaste should be used as some senior’s can’t use certain types of toothpaste because they’re at risk for aspiration pneumonia
  • Help your elder use mouthwash to minimize mouth bacteria and provide some fluoride
  • Brush their teeth morning and night, if necessary

For shaving, hire a professional, if possible. For example, taking dad to the barber can provide not only a good shave, but also a fun outing. If you wish to shave mom’s legs or under her armpits, which isn’t always necessary unless the senior wishes, be careful and take your time.

Have we missed anything that you’d like to add to this hygiene guide for the elderly? Share your stories and suggestions with us in the comments below.

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Dana Larsen
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