How to talk about personal hygiene with your loved one

Talking to our elderly loved ones about things as personal as hygiene is rarely easy. But if they are having problems looking after themselves it’s a matter that needs to be addressed so that they stay living well at home.

Before you go charging in with the Dettol and a loofah, it’s a good idea to have a look at some other reasons why they may be having problems with their personal hygiene.

Nonenal – What is it? 

Did you know that the musty, grassy or greasy odour associated with older people, often described as ‘old person smell’, is actually a chemical compound called Nonenal that people develop as they age?

This scent is often mistakenly attributed to poor hygiene, but because it is a fatty acid and not water-soluble, Nonenal, unlike sweat, won’t wash off easily with soap and water, and is not the result of poor washing habits.

“I treated mum to an afternoon tea, encouraging her to make an effort to get washed and dressed to the nines.”

How to talk about personal hygiene with your loved one

Why isn’t your loved one washing? 

There may be other reasons why our once squeaky-clean parents have let their personal hygiene standards slip.  Here are some common signs that highlight areas you can go on to address:

  • Depression – this can cause a loss of interest in even most basic activities.
  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s – has your loved one simply forgotten how to wash? If they are suffering from any form of cognitive disorder or memory loss, they may forget to do things.
  • Lack of social contact – perhaps if your parent isn’t going out or socialising, they may not feel that they have to make the effort with their personal hygiene.
  • Cost – with the ever-increasing cost of heating, many older people may be managing on limited finances and are cutting back on water and energy bills to make their pensions go further.
  • Anxiety and fear – your loved one may be frightened of falling in the bathroom, especially if they live alone or are unsteady on their feet.
  • Pain – is getting in and out of the bath or shower too painful or difficult?  Do they struggle to bend down to the washing machine so avoid washing their clothes?
  • Lack of dexterity or strength in the hands – arthritis or a lack of strength can make the simplest of washing hard.
  • Loss of dignity – if your loved one is fiercely independent and proud, they may feel undignified to ask for help and may fear a loss of control over their life.
How to talk about personal hygiene with your loved one

By discovering if your loved one has any type of health issue, anxiety, or financial concern, you can gently start the conversation and see how you can help.

Be tactful and patient, making sure that they know that you are trying to help them maintain their independence, and are not interfering.

Once you both have this understanding, you can suggest ways to help.  There are many aids and adaptations available to make life easier around the home and if your loved one needs assistance with their personal hygiene, Home Instead has a range of services to support them live their best life at home.

Discover how our personal care can help.