The last few months have caused many of us to review our daily hygiene practices, and the practices of those we love. From identifying and preventing potential hygiene risks, to singing “Happy Birthday” multiple times a day while washing our hands, the general population has never been so squeaky clean.
As we start to relax, however, it is more important than ever to apply best hygiene practices, particularly for the elderly loved ones in our lives. Those over 60 are more vulnerable to infectious diseases such as COVID-19, making good hygiene practices vital for keeping our elderly loved ones healthy and virus-free.
In this article, we will discuss the best ways to identify and prevent hygiene risks, as well as explore best hygiene practices for the elderly.
Viruses are found in bodily fluid, and are commonly spread through coughing or sneezing1. This creates droplets that remain on surfaces after the ill offender has left the vicinity. Handrails, money, trolley handles, doorknobs, taps and phones are common examples of areas that contain swarms of germs, making them potential risk areas for contracting the virus. Areas where lots of people congregate are also high-risk.
The elderly are most at risk of having their immune system compromised by these viruses. They are also more at risk of catching a secondary infection like pneumonia, while their body is busy fighting the first. As elderly people are more likely to have pre-existing conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease, their body’s ability to fight infectious diseases, such as coronavirus, is decreased2. This means the risks for elderly people are much wider in range, and extra precaution should always be taken to ensure hygiene risks are decreased.
Hand hygiene is the most effective way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus3. From the moment we get up in the morning, we are touching objects in our homes, shopping centres, medical offices and various other places. Implementing a thorough hand washing routine is extremely important in preventing germs spreading from an elderly person’s hand to their mouths, noses or eyes. This is a particularly dangerous situation, as even an illness like a common cold can be life-threatening for people over 60. Hand hygiene is critical to avoid this risk.
Regular hand washing is a healthy habit for seniors to maintain, ensuring that they wash for 30 seconds or more with soap and water, as soon as they get home from an outing. Hanging a printout (common in aged care residences and hospitals) in the bathroom can also serve as a handy reminder on how to thoroughly wash your hands. Some seniors can find certain soap scents nauseating, so be sure to provide them with their favourite brand or type of soap. Constant washing can be drying for thinner skin, so keep a bottle of moisturiser next to the basin, to apply straight after. Another great way to promote hand hygiene is to keep hand sanitiser in the house, car, or carry bag, for a quick, accessible squirt after touching surfaces.
Given the risk of coronavirus for seniors, aged care facilities need to be even more vigilant. To ensure good hygiene, they use a system called “5 moments of hand hygiene,” which identifies the number of times a nurse will need to wash their hands3. Hands should be thoroughly washed at the following points:
- Before touching a patient
- Before a procedure (e.g. simply handing over medication)
- After a procedure or bodily fluid exposure risk
- After touching a patient
- After touching a patient’s surroundings (such as a chair or bed)
Being able to identify and prevent hygiene risks is vital to keeping the homes of elderly loved ones safe and healthy. All aged care residences have this practice of hand hygiene in place, to prevent the spread of germs. This is an effective system to incorporate when visiting an elderly person, whether in an aged care residence, or at home.
Personal hygiene checklist
Another useful way to implement best hygiene practices for seniors is to create personal hygiene checklists. Whether in the bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom, a checklist can be a useful reminder to ensure their hygiene practices are as healthy as possible. Things to include:
- Teeth brushing twice daily (including dentures)
- Washing hands
- Wiping down regularly used items such as wallets and phones with antibacterial wipes or sprays
- Regular changing of bandages, and keeping on top of vitamins and other medications.
All these actions contribute to keeping our elderly as healthy as possible, and decreasing the risks of contracting infectious diseases. Having a personal hygiene checklist can prompt elderly loved ones to take extra care when it comes to their health and hygiene.
Other things you can do
Regular washing of bedding and linen, as well as clothes, is essential in destroying bacteria and mould that can quickly grow in unclean environments4. Physical health is also important, so arranging doctor and dentist visits can help to promote good hygiene. Finally, depending on circumstances, hiring a cleaner or creating a roster for yourself and family members to clean and disinfect your elderly loved one’s residence is another great way to reduce health risks. Ensuring the environment around your elderly loved one is clean is an important way to significantly reduce hygiene risks.
The current pandemic has reminded us to be vigilant with our hygiene, particularly for the elderly. Being able to identify and prevent hygiene risks is the best way to stay healthy. Finding a hygiene routine that works for seniors is the best way to effectively implement successful and safe hygiene practices. Thorough and consistent hand-washing, personal hygiene checklists, and regular cleaning and disinfecting of household items can assist in preventing identified hygiene risks. These simple actions will not only help in keeping infectious diseases at bay, but will also ensure the seniors in your life are happy, healthy, and safe.
- Department of Health, 2020, Managing Infectious Diseases in Aged Care, Australian Government.
- Kate Whiting, 2020, An Expert Explains: How To Help Older People Through The COVID-19 Pandemic, World Economic Forum.
- Department of Health and Human Services, 2015, Hand Hygiene in Residential and Aged Care, Tasmanian Government Public Health Services.
- Carol Rääbus, 2019, How Often You Should Change Your Sheets to Avoid Bugs and Mould, ABC Life.