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Personal Hygiene - Carers UK Forum

Personal Hygiene

Share information, support and advice on all aspects of caring.
I have a rather delicate issue with my mother, for whom I care.

She has early stage vascular dementia, plus other underlying mental health issues (anxiety, panic attacks, depression, agoraphobia) which contribute to her dementia & the amount of care she needs.

Three days a week she goes to Respite, for 6 hours each time. However I had a call yesterday from her social worker who says he had been called twice by the respite home, complaining that she smells... so much that people won't sit next to her. They have said they will send her home if she comes in smelly again - which will cause HUGE problems if they do, as she can't be left alone and of course I might be out (as that is the only time off I get).

She is rather old-fashioned and although she washes herself every morning, (bits & pits) is extremely hard to persuade to shower. She has a lovely walk-in shower but it takes heaven and earth to get her in it.

If you mention to her that she is a bit whiffy she bursts into tears and shuts down.

While I acknowledge it's my responsibility to send her off clean and pleasantly scented, I am finding it harder to achieve this because of the way she reacts.

IF I said to her "you won't go until you have had a shower/changed" something inside her would say "Yippee!" as after 2 years she still doesn't see why she has to go.

I've been brooding on this since the call, and haven't thought of a tactful way, so I told her rather bluntly - she didn't take it well, and of course due to her dementia she will have forgotten it all by now.

I put out clean clothes for her every day but often she just reaches for the same ones and refuses to change them.
My fil's respite day centre used to provide baths for just this reason, its a common enough problem and there have been posts on this matter before here, but I'm not clever enough to find the links to them. Mods, help!
I'd suggest you got Social Services involved, as presumably they organised the day care, could they organise someone to shower mum? Sometimes if a person is described as a nurse, arrives in a uniform, and comes to bath/shower someone, it is accepted more readily than if you tried. No guarantees though!
I suppose as I live with her, it's seen as my job.... Image

She was meant to go to respite today, but has come down with the coughing bug that's currently going around (I had it 3 weeks ago) and didn't want to go, so for once I caved in (the hygiene issue didn't help either). An old friend of mine visited for New Years, who - trying to be helpful-ish - decided to scour the bathroom from top to bottom and threw out the anti-slip mat mum has for the shower (it may have been a little bit manky, but she won't go in it without it), so I just gave in today.

I dragged her out to the shops and bought her a huge linen basket for her room, more soap and shower gel, but still have to get another anti-slip mat. Things I would have done on my "time off" if she'd gone, although I'd have been able to pop out again to get the mat.

I hate the idea I send her off smelly, she's lost her sense of smell herself, so doesn't see the problem.
I have worked in a day care centre and we used to bath our clients also you state that it is your job to make sure she clean if she refuses you can not force her as that is against her human rights what you could try is ask her and if she says no leave it for a while and ask her again due to her dementia she will have forgotten what she was asked before and maybe co operate we had this with father inlaw with his meds and injection of insulin he would refuse and say no he does not need them so rather than fight and get stressed and him we worked up left it went and asked again we found this not a problem personal care with him he used to have odd bath but had a good strip wash
Not sure if this helps, but the carehome my SIL's mother ended up in for respite care also did day care, and if you booked an elderly person into for a day they not only looked after them for the day, and fed them, etc etc, BUT, joy of joys, they bathed and cleaned them up too! Brilliant! Only downside - a day cost £65!

I do know what you mean about the hygiene issue. I think the problem is that having a shower is now SO gruesome for them that they just don't and won't. My 89 y/o MIL, who does not have dementia, but is, well, possibly (probably?) heading in that direction (??), never showers at home. When she was with me a couple of months ago I sort of cajoled and nagged and plagued her into having a shower. I (dangerously!) put the fan heater in there - far away from the shower, but even so, pretty damn dangerous, but she was absolutely freezing. She just about showered, and even managed to wash her own hair (!), but since then I haven't had the heart to try and get her to do it again.

At home she uses wet wipes to sponge herself down (I think!) (she certainly has a lot of the packets in the bathroom!). When I visited last I washed her hair in the bathroom basin using the shower from the bath next door to rinse - bit soggy but we got it done in the end. She hated it as she was cold (they just get cold ALL THE TIME it seems when they are old!), but it made a huge difference to her appearance. Having dirty greasy messy hair is just so, so sad (and it desperately needs a cut, but I cannot take her to a hairdresser with her hair so dirty and greasy.....).

My SIL's mother (full on dementia) was at home, and I know carers did manage to clean her and do her hair. It seems to me that being reduced to a 'dirty old woman' is NOT part of human dignity, any more than lying in dirt or being in pain is, and therefore there must, surely, be some sort of duty of care placed upon social services to ensure that the elderly are kept clean, if relatives can't do it (which so many of us can't because we lack the skills, the facilities, the equipment and the 'authority' to make the caree submit!).

I do think that it is essential that the elderly be kept clean and 'presentable'. It makes caring for them much harder if they are not, as they 'repulse' people, understandably, which is so, so dreadful for them. When I think of how well-dressed and beautifully presented my MIL always was, how much care she took of her appearance when younger, it really hurts to see her messy and unkempt and 'unclean' now....

Old age is bad enough as it is, let alone if you become dirty and smelly and messy....
Thank you everyone for your comments, they really have helped. I guess nobody has a manual when it comes to caring and it just scared me to death to think my mum is smelly.
She hated it as she was cold (they just get cold ALL THE TIME it seems when they are old!), but it made a huge difference to her appearance. Having dirty greasy messy hair is just so, so sad (and it desperately needs a cut, but I cannot take her to a hairdresser with her hair so dirty and greasy.....).
Yes they are, aren't they Jenny? Mum is ALWAYS cold. She has to put on a big coat and gloves and scarf and hat just to go to the supermarket as she says she feels cold in them. She's 80. But she has lost any pride in her appearance, she really doesn't notice any more (the dementia I assume), while at the same time she's too mentally frail to cope with any kind of criticism.

We have a very good hairdresser just opposite, and Max does a lot of older peoples' hair - if mum's is a bit greasy he never complains. He is a lovely chap and has been mum's neighbour for several decades - he even visits our housebound neighbour with MS to wash her hair for her. Mum refuses to wash her hair in the shower, and can't do it by herself otherwise, so I have to do it for her, not something I enjoy, but only when she is in the right mood, if that makes sense.

I do believe the older some people get the better they are at making up excuses... Image
Re feeling the cold - my MIL has been with me since mid-Dec. I am DREADING the next heating bill! I will have to go and read the meters, gas and electricity - it won't make the bills less, but at least I'll be more prepared. It's so damn annoying, as in her own little flat (400 miles away) she is on a heating deal that gives her unlimited heat, all year long, for a hundred pounds a month - and it's pre-damn-paid! ie, she isn't there, but it still is costing her a hundred quid, AND she is using up mine, which I will have to pay for!

It's exacerbated for me as I am one of those 'self-heating' people and it takes a lot of cold to make me feel cold. As I type here in bed I have my window wide open and lovely blowy cold air is coming in and it feels brilliant. My MIL is in a tiny room and never ever opens her window, even in summer. Ghastly!

On the topic of personal appearance, my MIL has ceased to wear a bra (though she badly needs to!). Luckily she wears a sort of gilet all day, which is good camouflage. Because she is my MIL, not my mother, I can't comment, alas. What I find particularly sad, though, is that she does still make an effort of sorts in her appearance - she has her (overlong and currently dirty again!) hair neat at the front, but she doesn't see that it gets messy at the back. I try and smooth it now and again, but I'm not sure she really takes it on board. I don't know if it's messy at the back because she has trouble reaching it, or because she doesn't see it and so is unaware of it. What she does still do, before we go out, is put on powder and sometimes lipstick too. It's touching, and valiant, but it also makes me feel so sad for her. She was always so well groomed, and it hurts to see her like this. I will wash her hair when I take her back home next week, and then when she is next down with me in a few weeks time, I'll get her to the hairdresser. Trouble is, I don't really know which hairdresser round about me would do old ladies hair. I guess I have to search till I find one with those old fashioned hood driers - that shoudl be a good indication! I don't want her being 'sneered at' at some fashionable place.....
This might sound a bit odd, but is it that your Mum just doesn't like showers?
I'm only asking as my Dad was old fashioned and wouldn't shower, he did love a bath though!
We managed to arrange for him to have one when he went into respite for the day, the rest of the week carers came in and gave him a strip wash (when he agreed to it!)
Wouldn't you think SS would be more willing to help than just pass on messages?
Hope you get something sorted
I agree it could be that some elderly people are 'pre-shower' generation! I don't think my own father ever had a shower in his life!

Thorough strip washes - (blanket baths even?) - should at least clean as well as being dunked in hot water?

If you can't get the SS carers to do it, would it be worth while forking out to have a private carer come in every now and then?

Being 'smelly' is just so, so horrible and 'unacceptable'. It's THE hall-mark of neglect, and we have such huge social taboos about it, far more than merely being messy looking or illkempt. It's very 'repulsive' to others, as well, as our sense of smell is so acute and so powerful, that a 'smelly' person is automatically a 'repulsive' one. Hence the perfum industry of course!