Causes of Declining Personal Hygiene in the Elderly

Keeping personal hygiene as an afterthought can have far-reaching consequences that impact any person’s health. Given the age factor, it is particularly harmful to the elderly, leading to a myriad of infections and diseases that can exacerbate any pre-existing ailments they may have. On top of that, other older adults become at risk if they share spaces, like elder care homes and facilities, with senior citizens neglecting personal hygiene.

Nobody wants to neglect personal hygiene. Primarily, the aging process can be attributed to the cause of declining personal hygiene in the elderly, giving them the characteristic “Old People Smell.” That’s a natural part of aging and can be misconstrued as body odor borne from lack of bathing. There are, however, other underlying causes that may explain why it is challenging for the elderly to maintain their hygiene.

Dampened Senses

It is not uncommon for one’s sense to degrade with age. Many older adults witness a decline in their sight, taste, hearing, and smelling capabilities due to age, making them unaware of their physical health. This reason is most intuitive when it comes to older people being negligent with personal hygiene.

Who can blame them, though? It’s not their fault that their body isn’t what it used to be. In cases like these, the caregiver must remain on the lookout for signs like body odor, soiled clothes, and bad breath. These may indicate that either the elderly person is neglecting their health willfully or is maybe unaware that their diminished senses have fostered a decline in personal hygiene.

If unaware, caregivers must handle situations like these delicately to prevent embarrassment to the person under your care. Their senses may have dampened, but their consciousness hasn’t, making them feel and react like any average person would if made aware of their hygiene issues. Hygiene matters should only be disclosed to them in a private setting with the pretext to better their health.


Like heart disease, Dementia is an umbrella term for many illnesses that hinder many neurological and cognitive abilities. Though it’s not a normal part of aging, it is most prevalent in the elderly, with Alzheimer’s as the most common, causing 10 million cases to develop each year worldwide.

Depending on the type and severity of their case, Dementia affects memory and thinking capabilities in older adults, thereby making them forget to take care of themselves and causing personal hygiene issues. As of now, there exists no treatment for Dementia; however, researchers are continually struggling and conducting trials to find a relevant course of treatment. Early detection and palliative care are the best options for managing the onset of Dementia. Depending on the stage of the disease, one needs to look for alternatives in which personal hygiene of the elderly is taken care of to prevent any other illnesses that may damage their wellbeing.


Most of us don’t like asking for help. This is especially true for some senior citizens, especially older men. Perhaps it’s a generational phenomenon. Nonetheless, many feel shame in asking for help in sensitive personal hygiene matters. It makes them feel weak, vulnerable and makes it seem like they’re losing control of their lives.

When help is offered or enforced upon them in cases like these, they might react in anger and try to refuse or ridicule the caregiver’s efforts. The best course of action here is to take baby steps when it comes to their hygiene. Start by reminding them to perform the bare minimum required for personal hygiene, like washing their hands before and after meals or after using the toilet. Make it more comfortable for the elderly to control their hygiene by providing them with the amenities that aid them, like bedpans, adult diapers, and handrails in bathrooms. If they’re struggling with something, offer them help but don’t try to interfere if they refuse. They will get grumpy, angry, or upset with the caregiver, but the caregiver needs to remain calm-headed and explain the consequences clearly every time they refuse treatment. Eventually, they’ll come around when they realize that they need help at the stage in life they’re at.

In severe cases, high functioning senior citizens may not comply with the caregiver’s instructions. In these cases, one may have to judge whether they are willfully opting to neglect their health. One might need to resort to having a non-compliant elderly patient declared incompetent in taking care of themselves to provide an adequate clean living environment for their safety and others.


Depression affects all people and makes our body feel like it’s shutting down. Even the most mundane tasks like putting on perfume become a chore, causing many older adults to forego personal hygiene regimens. This includes the elderly who may be battling with the condition or may have developed it during later stages of their life.

Most of the time, clinical depression remains undiagnosed among the elderly because the symptoms of depression, such as lethargy, confusion, or insomnia, get attributed to the side effects of medication the elderly may take. Caregivers are not doctors; hence, they may not be able to judge whether the aged person in their care suffers from depression or not. It’s best to consult their record of treatment and family history to confirm if depression is a source of hygiene issues. From there on, a treatment plan involving therapy and counseling may enable them to get better and tackle personal hygiene themselves.

Things to Remember

Providing care for the elderly requires a caregiver to be patient as one may have to repeat themselves multiple times to get the message across. It’ll never be perfect because their age progresses and may worsen their condition, bringing a host of new problems one may not be equipped to handle. Additionally, it requires sensitivity and attention to their needs as, at times, you may have to judge their emotions rather than what they convey when taking care of sensitive matters.