Remember when our parents had to remind us to wash our hands before dinner every night after playing outside? For many adult children of elderly parents, the roles are now reversed. Hand washing has long been an essential factor in keeping seniors healthy. With the advent of COVID-19, washing hands and basic hygiene are more important than ever. Reminding the seniors in our lives to wash hands–and making sure they do it properly– is an integral part of keeping them safe.
Why Is Handwashing So Important?
Countless studies have shown that proper handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to 80 percent of infections are transmitted by our hands. And it’s not just about COVID-19: we can stop flu, colds and intestinal viruses in their tracks with proper handwashing. Feces is one of the most significant disease spreaders, so of course, washing hands after using the toilet is essential. With COVID-19 in the picture, washing hands when we return home after leaving the house is also a necessary precaution.
The CDC recommends washing hands:
- Before preparing or eating food.
- Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Before and after changing wound dressings or bandages.
- After using the restroom.
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
- After touching an animal or animal waste.
- After touching garbage.
Hand Washing How-To
Most of us have heard the Happy Birthday song rule: sing it twice while washing hands to make sure you’re scrubbing long enough. The CDC guidelines are simple and clear, but we often need to reinforce them for the seniors in our lives:
- Wet hands with warm water (using liquid soap if possible).
- Rub for at least 20 seconds (around the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice).
- Rinse thoroughly with running water.
- Dry with a paper towel if possible and use the paper towel to turn off the faucet.
- Make sure hands are dried thoroughly.
- When possible, wash with soap and water. It’s the best way to make sure your hands are getting clean and killing viruses and bacteria. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
What Strategies Can I Use to Encourage Hand Washing?
Seniors may be forgetful or have mobility limitations that keep them from washing as much as they should. Gentle and kind reminders can help seniors remember to wash hands regularly. Here are a few tips to help seniors stay on top of hand hygiene:
- Set a good example. Wash your hands when you arrive at your parents’ home. Wash again before preparing food.
- Give mom and dad frequent reminders and ask other caregivers in their lives to do the same. Respectfully remind them why handwashing is so important.
- Use posters and stickers in strategic spots. Every reminder can help. Grandkids can get creative and make friendly reminders.
- Keep hand sanitizer on hand in sitting areas and bedrooms in case mobility issues make handwashing after coughing or sneezing inconvenient.
- Keep bathrooms and kitchens stocked with liquid soap and paper towels.
- Dry skin can be painful and can sometimes cause seniors to avoid washing hands frequently. Remind seniors that becoming sick is much worse than dry skin and help them find products to relieve dryness.
Good Hygiene Beyond Hand Washing
Keeping surfaces and everyday objects clean can help reduce the transmission of coronavirus and other germs.
- Keep antibacterial wipes on hand and easily accessible for mom and dad.
- Wipe down kitchen and bathroom surfaces, including faucet handles, regularly.
- Remote controls can be germ magnets. Wipe them down daily.
- Phones and keyboards are also breeding grounds for germs. Help the seniors in your life keep their devices clean and sanitized.
- Avoid placing purses on tables and counters–they often carry germs.
- Wipe doorknobs frequently.
Hand Washing Hygiene in a Long Term Care Setting
Hand hygiene is one of the most important things all healthcare workers can do to prevent the spread of illness. At Evergreen Health & Rehab, this approach was in place well before COVID-19 to prevent the spread of common infections. But in light of today’s public health crisis, we’re more committed than ever to excellent hand hygiene. We follow the essential rules for hand hygiene as outlined by the public health community, including washing hands before and after contact with residents. Our staff also uses gloves for a broad range of procedures and patient care. While continuing to emphasize hand hygiene protocol for staff, we’re also working harder than ever to improve handwashing by residents. We routinely remind residents of the importance of washing hands and give them direct assistance when needed. We focus on making soap and water accessible and giving residents easy access to hand sanitizer when getting to a sink is challenging. Together, we are working hard to keep residents healthy and safe in challenging times. And sometimes, the most straightforward measures have the most significant impact.