Undressing or bathing in front of a relative stranger is few people’s idea of good fun, so it’s no wonder many older people are reluctant to accept home care services that involve personal care.
The truth is, though, that personal care services are among the most vital provided by home care providers – especially if a person’s mobility is an issue (bathrooms are one of the riskiest areas of the house for falls), they’re recovering from surgery (keeping wounds dry is often a consideration) or simply have a partner or family carer who lacks the physical strength to help them into a bath or off the toilet.
So, if you’re looking into personal care services for your partner, parent or older family member, but are aware they’ll be reluctant to accept assistance with normally private tasks, it helps to be armed with some background knowledge on what personal care involves and why it can play an important role in maintaining an independent lifestyle.
To get the lowdown on personal and hygiene care, Starts at 60 spoke to Leeane Fleming, a home care worker with Anglicare, who has seven years’ experience assisting clients with personal tasks.
Common personal care or hygiene services include undressing and dressing, bathing or showering, dental care, shaving and other grooming, and toileting. But Fleming emphasises the high level of control her clients have over the services they receive – right down to the body parts they want washed and those they don’t.
For example, some people have trouble bending over so need help washing their lower legs and feet but other than that are fine to take care of themselves.
“They can be as independent as they like,” she explains. “I’ve got one lady who’s quite capable of doing it all herself, but she just likes to sit there and chat, and let me do the whole lot. But we don’t try to take over, so if a client says, ‘I only want my back and lower legs washed’, we’ll only do their back and their lower legs.
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“That’s the point of having the care at home, it’s so that they can stay as independent as they possibly can.”
As for the common misconception that personal care may involve some form of intimate contact, Fleming says that’s absolutely not the case. “We’re not going to take over washing anyone’s private parts,” she clarifies. “They can do that themselves. We’re there as assistance to make sure that they don’t have a mishap in the shower.
Anglicare ensures that its clients’ preferences for whether their personal carer is a male or female are always honoured and prioritises pairing the same carers and clients so the process is familiar.
“It’s always our priority to ensure the same worker assists a client, so they’re more at ease and the home care worker is comfortable and knows exactly what the person likes,” Fleming says.
Showering isn’t the only aspect of personal care that home care workers are happy to assist with. As a former hairstylist, Fleming says enjoys helping her clients with hair washing and shaving.
“There’s a few men who I shave, and they like me doing that too, because before I was a hairdresser I was a barber, so I do quite a good shave!” she jokes, adding that tooth-brushing and other dental hygiene tasks are also part of her daily job.
While the idea of receiving personal or hygiene assistance is understandably off-putting for some people, actually doing so can make a huge difference to your family member’s ability to stay in their own home.
Fleming points out, for example, that having falls at home can rob someone of their confidence to use the shower and thus their hygiene standards fall, but merely having a carer present in the bathroom can prevent a fall and restore their pride in their personal grooming.
Personal care, in any case, may not be required as a long-term service, but plays a key role in allowing a person to return to their own home after a stay in hospital or to stay at home while they recover from an illness.
Home care service providers such as Anglicare can even offer advice on home aids such as shower and toilet rails to make your home or that of your family member safer for an older resident over the long term.
Fleming says it may help to remind your loved one that they are far from alone in needing a little bit of help with personal tasks – many of their friends or neighbours are likely to also be receiving personal care.
“I had one lady say to me this morning, ‘I never imagined myself having someone come in and shower me’, but it’s just that you don’t realise how many people are in the same situation!” Fleming notes.
“There are a lot of people out there having the hygiene services,” she adds. “People don’t get judged, we just come in, do our work, and try to make that person feel as comfortable as possible. We always ask them what they would like done, let them do what they are capable of, and then only do what they can’t do.
As for people who feel embarrassed at being seen naked or worry that their carer might find providing personal services distasteful, Fleming’s as blasé as most healthcare professionals when it comes to these matters.
“Once you’ve seen one body, you’ve seen them all,” she says. “You’re helping someone, so there’s nothing distasteful about it all.”
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Anglicare Southern Queensland are here to support you at all stages; whether you’re on the path to retirement, in need of some help at home or are looking into residential aged care, we have a range of support services to help you or your loved one with the transition.