I walked into the home of  an elderly couple and asked them a question which I repeat almost daily, “What is the most important thing we can do for you?” The husband spoke up saying that his wife needed help at least once a week to take a shower. She wasn’t safe doing this activity alone and he wasn’t strong enough to help her anymore.

This is a common circumstance for me to hear. At least half of our calls for service are related to a client’s difficulty managing their hygiene. Most people think of brushing your teeth and hand washing first, but showering and cleaning up after toileting are just as important.

You may say, only once a week? Well, showering once a week doesn’t necessarily mean they are ignoring hygiene the other days of the week. Some people find that the hot water of a shower dries their skin, so they limit the number of times they get in under the water each week. Some people even avoid showers all together because of safety, endurance and/or strength issues.

As a registered nurse, I definitely put hand washing at the top of the list for health and wellness. Simple attention to hygiene can prevent skin rashes, bladder infections, and digestive problems.

It can also make you feel good. The hot water of a shower can lift your spirits. A warm washcloth on your face in the morning will bring sighs of comfort and joy. I’m more likely to smile after brushing my teeth each morning!

This client’s husband’s request was a good enough answer for me. I left their home feeling like we had a good starting point; that is as long as that feeling lasted though. A call from their daughter revealed a doctor’s concern that her mother’s hygiene was not being paid attention to as she was diagnosed with a bladder infection just a week earlier.

The daughter needed me to be the one who addressed the issue. She didn’t want to overstep her part, since her father was trying so hard to remain independent. I planned for the Home Care Aide to make a visit and then report to me her findings. When her visit revealed what the daughter feared, I told the client’s husband that I felt it was necessary for him to allow our Home Care Aide to visit more frequently. He was reluctant, but did accept the help.

When I find myself in the position of telling people what they don’t want to hear I remind myself of our core values. The first is caring, but the second is safety. Our company should never behave in a heartless way, but we do want to keep a high safety standard.

We want our clients to be able to live at home; this means that they will have to learn to accept help. The problem is they did not choose to change, their health did that without them being in control. As a professional, I like to soften the blow, but cannot side step my responsibility. Hygiene and health are too important to ignore.