Making small changes to routines and bathroom products - such as getting long-reach nail clippers - can make a big difference and allow your relative to maintain their independence when it comes to their personal appearance and grooming habits.
On this page you can find information on:
1. Tooth care
2. Hair care
3. Nail care
Good dental care is a very important part of staying healthy at any age, but the daily routine of teeth cleaning can become more difficult in later life. If your relative has dentures, these also need to be maintained properly for good oral hygiene.
Managing a toothbrush and toothpaste
Electric toothbrushes are very effective for teeth cleaning and require less effort than a normal brush, so if your relative is struggling to look after their oral hygiene, switching to one could be a good move.
However, if he or she wishes to continue with a manual brush but has difficulty holding the handle, a toothbrush with an angled head or larger grip handle could be a good alternative.
If lack of strength in the hands means that your loved one is finding it hard to squeeze the toothpaste, there are tube squeezers that may allow him or her to stay independent with their tooth care for longer.
Going to an NHS dentist
It’s important that your elderly relative regularly visits their dentist for a check-up as it’s always best to find and treat any dental problems as early as possible. The dentist will also be able to give more tailored advice and recommendations about dental products that your relative may find useful if their medical conditions have changed since the last dentist visit.
You can find out about NHS dental services in your relative’s area by visiting the NHS website.
Community dental services
The NHS runs a special service for people with disabilities or medical problems who find it difficult to get to the dentist. If you think this is something your relative would benefit from, you should talk to their dentist to see if you can get a referral to the community dental services in their area.
If your relative is referred for the service, it means that a dentist will be able to come to your relative instead of the other way around – for example to a nursing or care home if that’s where your relative lives, a mobile clinic near the home, or even make a home visit if necessary.
Hair washing in the shower or bath
Your loved one may be able to wash his or her own hair if they’re still comfortable using a shower on their own. If they struggle to raise their arms to ensure the shampoo is massaged in, a long-handled hair massager will help. A shower seat can also be useful if your relative has problems standing for a long time.
It can be trickier for your relative to wash their hair if they only have a traditional bath. Adding a stool to sit on may mean they can wash their hair over the sink instead, or you can talk to them about making adaptations to the bathroom, such as fitting a walk-in bath, which will make it easier.
Helping your relative wash their hair
If your relative can’t manage to wash their hair independently, there are a number of aids that can make it easier for you or their care worker to do it for them.
- Washing trays can be used by the sink: these allow your relative’s hair to be washed while they're leaning backwards, which is beneficial because it means they can sit down the whole time.
- As a complement to showers, non-rinse shampoos make it possible to wash hair without the need for any water.
- Inflatable shampoo basins can be used on the bed by a carer if he or she needs to remain lying down while washing their hair.
- For hair styling, you can get holders for hair dryers and longer handles for hairbrushes that can make it easier for your relative to have the hair style they prefer.
Keeping fingernails and toenails clean and trimmed is an important part of a healthy grooming routine and can help your relative to feel confident in their appearance and sense of self.
However, small nail clippers can be fiddly and difficult to use for older people with arthritis or other physical problems. The good news is that there are a number of products available to make nail care easier.
If your relative has poor eyesight, nail clippers with magnifiers can help them see where to cut the nail. On the other hand, if the problem is a lack of strength in the fingers, nail clippers mounted on a base could help, along with long-handled toe nail clippers.
In addition to regular nail maintenance, your relative may appreciate the occasional professional manicure of pedicure which, as well as being an enjoyable experience, can also help to boost self-esteem.
For many men, the regular shaving routine is a familiar and comforting one, and usually something they can continue well into later life if there are no physical problems.
Small adjustments to the routine can be helpful if your relative is beginning to find shaving difficult, such as sitting down rather than standing and switching to an accessible or magnified mirror. If wet shaving is no longer possible, an electric razor is a good alternative.
It’s important to make sure the lighting in the room your relative chooses to shave in is of the best quality. Lighting over the mirror is particularly helpful. Ideally, the light should be defused by a cover to minimise any glare and produce a lighting level of 200lux.
- Incontinence products and help: incontinence is a common problem among elderly people, but help is available. Read our advice on when to go see the GP and the products you can get to make your relative more comfortable.
- Live-in care: having a live-in carer is an increasingly popular alternative to a care home as it enables an older person to stay in their own home while still meeting their changing needs.
- Getting dressed and undressed: by changing routines, buying more suitable clothes or using aids such as button hooks, putting on or taking off clothes doesn’t need to be a difficult task for your loved one.
Page last reviewed: September 2016
Next review due: November 2018