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7 Tips to Make Personal Care Less Awkward for Family Caregivers

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Is there anything more heart-wrenching than an adult child watching her mom decline to a point where she needs to help with toileting? Or more awkward than a son having to coax his dad into a shower and help him wash? These personal care tasks can be hard for a senior’s family member to take on, and just as difficult for seniors who feel their dignity slipping away.

There are ways to make personal care tasks easier, though. As a senior care professional, you’ve likely learned to overcome those awkward situations with your patients as well. Here are seven suggestions you can recommend to family caregivers.

  1. Think differently. It might help to tell family members to think of the tasks in medical or scientific terms to help take the emotional heat out of it. Instead of a daughter changing her mom’s diaper, she’s changing her incontinence briefs to keep her clean and healthy.
  2. Maximize their abilities. If the senior can handle part of the task, see if he or she is capable of doing the things that are most difficult for both parties, like washing private parts.
  3. Distraction is your friend. There is an old episode of MASH in which Hot Lips Houlihan, the gorgeous nurse, has to give a sponge bath to a bashful young soldier. She explains that the way to get it done quickly, efficiently, and with little embarrassment is to carry on a normal conversation and look the patient in the eye. Other distractions can also help, like reminiscing about shared good memories or singing favorite old songs.
  4. Make it as much fun as possible. Bubbles, spa-like soaps, a few flameless candles and some soft music can turn a dreaded routine into something the senior can look forward to. Suggest the caregiver start with a good back scrub to ease into the bathing process. Who doesn’t love that?
  5. Take the easy route. Use bathing wipes between full baths and dry shampoo for between wet washes. Try wet wipes when toileting for better (and faster) cleaning.
  6. A time for everything. Create a regular routine for the senior’s hygiene tasks, especially if the senior has dementia. Make regular bathing something that happens before church, for example, and always brush teeth before breakfast. Encourage family caregivers to help senior loved ones with personal care tasks when they are most alert. Avoid personal care tasks during difficult times, like evenings for those Alzheimer’s patients who experience sundowning.
  7. Ask for help. If the family member is having trouble doing these tasks or the senior is too combative, let them know there is no shame in asking for assistance. Overwhelmed families can benefit from respite care offered by churches and community groups, or the VA, which offers benefits for veterans. You can also recommend non-medical in-home care services like those provided by the Home Instead® network.

While these suggestions can make personal tasks less awkward for family caregivers and seniors alike, seeing a parent or aging loved one’s abilities decline can still take an emotional toll. Try recommending these Emotions of Caregiving articles and videos to help family caregivers manage their emotional stress.

Last revised: July 26, 2013

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. February 18, 2019 at 1:39 pm | Posted by Betelihem Ergetie

    Let family members know it is OK to ask for help.


  2. August 15, 2013 at 7:35 am | Posted by Sandy Hare

    this is excellent advice. keep up the good work


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