Maintaining our personal hygiene comes easy for many of us but for other’s that are dealing with physical or mental disabilities that affect their daily living, it can be difficult to engage in task simple as brushing their teeth. The elderly face issues with personal hygiene that include refusing to take baths, brushing their teeth, or wanting to change their clothes. Some can become combative, making it difficult for the caregiver. Proper hygiene is important as it lowers the risk of developing health issues.
What I found helpful
For individuals suffering with memory loss such as Dementia or Alzheimer, it can be a struggle to get them to maintain their hygiene. In the beginning, it was difficult to get my mother to shower and brush her teeth. She would become angry and refuse to if I ask her. I later found out that, using negotiating skills was a better tactic. Sometimes I would “bribe” her by telling her, “if you take your shower or brush your teeth, we can go out for ice cream or for a ride”. It can be something really simple—something that you know they like or have interest in to assist in getting them to bathe, brush their teeth, or even dressing. It can be frustrating but remember to always speak calmly. It’s frustrating and confusing for them. With my mother, she would sometimes give-in.
As time went out, it became difficult to brush her teeth because she no longer remember how to brush, rinse and spit. I knew I had to find a method or technique that would help because I didn’t want her to lose any teeth due to food buildup or developing cavities, I decided to purchase a Waterpik Cordless Water Flosser from Walmart which retails for $ 35.99.
The process is a little messy but it can prevent cavities, loss of teeth, or other health issues developing. I would sit her on the side of the bed or in a chair, place a few towels directly in front–underneath her chin, almost like a bib (make sure they cover the chest and lap). I fill the Waterpik with warm water and make sure I have all of the mouth supplies near (toothbrush, toothpaste), and I used non latex gloves. Also, try using a kids toothbrush if you have problems with them opening their mouth. The smaller the brush, the easier it is for you to get inside of their mouth.
With my mother, she’s not a fan of opening up her mouth so I would start out by gently placing the brush on her lips, which would cause her to open her mouth slightly and then I would be able to start brushing the outside bottom and top teeth. I would then reach for the Waterpik and use mild “bursts” to flush out the toothpaste and any residue (food, etc.). Make sure to gently hold their bottom lip, pulling it down gently, so that the water and residue drains out on the towel. Sounds gross? Yeah, kinda, but you gotta do what you gotta do to maintain their help.
Sometimes, when brushing the “Interior” of the teeth, she would bite down on the toothbrush. I wouldn’t pull or snatch because I knew she would eventually open her mouth and release. I would continue, repeat the flushing with the Waterpik, and lastly, brush her tongue. With brushing the tongue, make sure to be gentle. You don’t want to brush hard which can result in Taste Buds Damage. Repeat flushing with the Waterpik until the mouth is free and clear of all toothpaste and clean.
This is not an easy process and is not comfortable at all for the person that you are caring for. Remember to have patience, speak calmly and be gentle.
Here is a very helpful video for caregivers, that show the various steps in tooth brushing and techniques to use.
In my area, thanks to the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, they referred me to UM Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute Dental Service formally known as Kernan Hospital Dental, that serve children and adults who have limited access to oral health care in the community. This population includes mentally and/or physically disabled individuals. The entire staff was very nice and helpful and made her comfortable throughout all of her appointments.
You can also use visit the Special Care Dentistry website which has a Referral page that allows you to enter your location information to find dentist in your area that provide dental services for those with special needs. The Special Care Dentistry Association serves as a resource to all oral health care professionals who serve or are interested in serving patients with special needs through education and networking to increase access to oral healthcare for patients with special needs.
Helpful bathroom devices
Personal hygiene can become an issue for those with limited mobility, disabled, or the elderly. For the individuals that still prefer to do things on their own, although they may need some assistance, there are medical devices that can be used to prevent injuries such as falls.
Bath Boards and Seats – Ensures correct alignment; eliminates movement between the seat and board. Gives additional confidence and security for users that would normally use a separate bath board and seat together. The frame is adjustable to allow for variations in bath depth and has a backrest for added comfort and support.
Grab Rails – These can be attached to the wall, ceiling or floor next to the bath. Straight or a slightly angled rails may be fixed to the wall to provide support when getting up and down in the bath. A floor to ceiling rail can be fixed to the floor and the ceiling and can be helpful if a bath step is used to get in and out of the bath, although it may get in the way if a bath board is used.
These items can be purchased from your local Walgreens, Rite Aid Pharmacy, CVS Pharmacy, or at any medical supply store. You can also find them online and have them shipped directly to your door. This is very helpful especially when you’re not able to travel out.
Remember, their are various resources available that provide helpful information on how to provide care for your love one. It’s always important to remember that, in caring for your love one, don’t forget to care for yourself.