Community Health Network

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Personal care tips

When you or your loved one is home with a medical condition, follow these simple tips and instructions for healthy skin care, oral hygiene, bath and shower safety, and changing bed linens.

Good skin care prevents bedsores and adds to your comfort.

What will be needed:

  • Non-alcohol lotion
  • Extra pillows
  • Extra lift sheet or sheep skin

What to do:

  1. When you are ill, you may have a tendency to remain in one position for a long period of time. While this is understandable, you will need to sit up and move around to prevent skin breakdown.
  2. If you are unable to move by yourself, you will need to ask for assistance with repositioning every couple of hours. The nurse will demonstrate how to use a lift sheet to make the move easier. Extra pillows will be needed for support and to avoid pressure areas. Your spine should be straight, but the arms and legs may be more comfortable when flexed.
  3. In order to prevent bedsores, your skin needs to be massaged to stimulate and increase circulation. The nurse can show you and your caregiver the areas that are most susceptible to skin breakdown. Gently rub these areas with lotion.
  4. Your skin needs to be checked regularly (at least daily). Areas can become raw due to moisture or friction, especially under the breasts, in the groin area, abdominal folds, or between the buttocks. Cream or lotion can be used to reduce friction or the skin can be kept dry with a light dusting of powder.
  5. Keeping the skin clean and dry is essential for good care.
  6. Areas that have little padding-such as elbows, heels or the tailbone-can easily develop sores. The first sign of possible trouble is reddened skin that does not fade after repositioning. This can progress into a soft feeling, purplish color or open wound. Please point out any of these changes to the nurse.

Cleaning your mouth is important for comfort. It will also help to prevent infection and irritation in the mouth. It should be done at least one or two times a day.

What is needed:

  • Soft toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Denture cleaner if applicable
  • Soft toothette swabs
  • Alcohol free mouthwash

What to do if your family member cannot brush their teeth:

  1. Assist your family member to gently brush his or her teeth with a soft toothbrush.
  2. If your family member wears dentures, cleanse the dentures and replace after also cleaning the inside of the mouth with a toothette.
  3. Repeat this process as often as needed to keep the mouth clean and moist.
  4. If your family member can no longer use a toothbrush, moisten the toothette with water or mouthwash and gently swab the teeth, gums and roof of mouth.

Regular bathing (this does not necessarily mean daily) is important for your health and comfort. Using a bath stool in the tub or shower allows you to bathe in a safer and less tiring manner. When this method becomes unsafe, a bed bath is necessary.

What will be needed for a bed bath:

  • Towels and washcloth
  • Plastic basin or other container
  • Soap
  • Lotion
  • Clean nightgown or pajamas
  • Clean bed linen
  • Gloves when linen is soiled and when cleaning urine or stool from skin

What to do if your family member cannot bathe themselves:

  1. Gather together all items used for bathing.
  2. Encourage them to use the bedpan or urinal before bathing.
  3. Take pain medications first; comfort is always a primary concern.
  4. The nurse or home health aide can demonstrate how to give a bed bath. Do not worry if the technique is not exactly the same as what has been shown. Many caregivers develop their own techniques after some practice.
  5. Place warm water in the basin and replace the water as often as necessary, but especially after washing the genital or buttocks area.
  6. Always respect your family member’s privacy and dignity by using extra towels or a blanket to cover areas not being washed.
  7. Use soap mainly on the areas of the body which perspire or need extra washing due to odor or drainage. Always rinse well. Plain water is usually sufficient for other areas of the body. In selecting a brand of soap, try to pick one with less perfumes or additives thereby resulting in fewer dry skin problems.
  8. Add a capful of baby oil in the bath water to help dry skin.
  9. Dry the skin with a soft towel, always gently, yet thoroughly.
  10. Rub lotion on the body after bathing.

When you are weak and spend more time in bed, bed linens may need to be changed while you remain in bed. Keep in mind that bed linens should remain as fresh as possible and free from creases and moisture.

What is needed:

  • Sheets and pillow cases
  • Lift sheet
  • Incontinent pads

What to do if your family member cannot get out of bed:

  1. The nurse or home health aide will show you how to change the linens with a person in the bed.
  2. First, if there is a hospital bed being used, raise the bed to the height that is most comfortable for working.
  3. Remove the pillows (unless the patient is more comfortable with them) and any top sheets or blankets. Turn the person to one side of the bed. Remember to leave the side rail up on the side of the bed the person is facing. The rails give them something to hold on to and helps to prevent falling.
  4. Go to the side of the bed the person is not facing. Loosen all edges of the sheets.
  5. Roll the bottom sheet(s), along with any incontinent pads, under the person to the middle of the bed, tucking the rolled sheet and pads under the person.
  6. Place a fresh sheet on the bed with the middle of the sheet in the middle of the bed. If a lift sheet or incontinent pad is in use, place those the same way.
  7. Tuck in the sides, top and bottom of the sheet. Try to remove as many wrinkles as possible. Roll the remaining sheet from the opposite side to the middle toward the side that has just been tucked in until the remaining half is rolled up. Tuck this under the patient, under the old sheet.
  8. Raise the side rail and roll the person to the clean side of the bed.
  9. Move to the opposite, remaining side and remove the dirty sheet and any pads.
  10. Unroll the clean sheet and pads from under the person. Straighten as many wrinkles as possible.
  11. Reposition the person for comfort. Replace pillows, top sheets and blankets.

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