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Helping Seniors With Hygiene

My mom smells.

The call came in around noon, and I answered as I normally do: “Thank you for calling Griswold Home Care, this is Mark. Can I help you?”  

The caller replied, “How do I make my mother stop smelling?”

I paused, not quite sure what to say next. After 5 years in the greater Raleigh area speaking to countless families about different problems and situations, I had not heard it asked quite that way.

My first thoughts were to spray some Lysol, light a candle, or get some breath mints or cologne. How much smell were we talking about here?

Oh, I have it! How about give her a bath?

If you’re keeping score, the final suggestion was the correct one. Many of us know that our senior loved ones don’t enjoy bathing much anymore, and if they suffer from dementia, it becomes a bigger problem. One of the most common reasons seniors don’t bathe is that they are scared they might slip and fall in the bathroom. If no one is there to prompt or encourage them to bathe, they could go 1 week, 1 month, or even longer without bathing. Body odor is a symptom that we find unpleasant, but there are more serious dangers.

We brought on a new client recently who had not bathed for an extended period of time; no one is really sure how long. In the folds where skin rolls over, the skin beneath had begun to breakdown. Her skin is those areas was terribly dry and brittle. Rashes appeared, and some areas had become infected. Cellulitis was the first concern. It’s an infection in the tissue underneath the skin when bacteria enters through broken skin. Cellulitis can actually trigger sepsis in some cases and can lead to septic shock and even death.

It doesn’t have to come to that though. If your loved one has a clear mind, you can reason with them and win that battle. If they suffer from dementia, you may have to resort to therapeutic misrepresenting; that’s a clinical way to say, “Don’t always tell them the truth.”

You can spare them heartache, pain, and sadness by going along with an untruth they have created for themselves. You will accomplish more, and you can steer them to the action needed by agreeing with them first, going along with it, and then gently moving that reality into what you need them to do.

To the original caller, I said, “If your mom smells, I strongly recommend you help her take a bath.” 

It may be a hard sell but you must find a way. Because of the danger of cellulitis and sepsis, you could actually be saving your loved one’s life, so skip the cologne and Lysol and get them into the tub for a nice warm bath.

If you or an aging loved one are considering non-medical in-home care in Raleigh, NC, call Griswold Home Care and speak to one of our caring staff members today. Call (919) 229-8944