Problems with hygiene

It’s not uncommon for a holiday visit to reveal that things with mom or dad are newly amiss, particularly in the area of personal grooming. Maybe mom has always been fastidious about her appearance, and now she’s disheveled. Or dad didn’t change clothes the entire time you were there, and maybe even had a strong odor.

There are many possible reasons for such changes:

  • Poor vision or reduced sense of smell. Your loved one may not see stains on garments or smell their own odors. Without these cues, they may neglect to bathe or do the laundry.
  • Depression. Especially if your relative shows little interest in things they used to enjoy, it may be that depression has sapped their motivation. Ask your loved one’s doctor to do a depression screening.
  • Fear of injury. Slippery surfaces, poor lighting, and unsteady balance combine to make the bathroom a dangerous place. Try installing a light in the shower, also grab bars and nonskid pads. Add a bath chair and a handheld showerhead so your loved one can clean up while seated.
  • Memory issues. Periodical forgetfulness is one thing. But a change in personal hygiene can be a sign that your relative is struggling with dementia. It may be that they need memory prompts or actual assistance.

Bringing up the subject. Take a respectful, go-slow approach. Are they making a choice to bathe less frequently or having trouble navigating the bathroom? (Bathing 1–2 times a week IS enough to stave off skin problems and infections.) Similarly, with clothing: Unawareness, or problems doing laundry? See what they say and learn if/how you might help. Or tell the doctor what you’ve observed and let the doctor explore possible causes. It may be easier for your relative to be candid with a professional than admit their problems to you.