Personal care for the elderly

If you find that you or a loved one could do with a little extra help with washing, dressing or getting to the bathroom, it may be time to consider getting support at home.

Quick overview

Personal care can include anything from toileting assistance to getting washed and dressed in the morning.

As a person ages they may experience mobility difficulties, struggle with their balance, or have trouble remembering things. This may mean they need some help with personal care. 

While personal care is commonly provided in residential care, receiving personal care at home (as part of domiciliary care) can help a person retain as much independence as possible.

What is personal care?

Personal care is quite a broad term that covers a range of daily tasks that help a person stay clean and comfortable. These tasks usually occur in the bathroom as they involve ‘private hygiene’ such as washing, toileting and oral care. However, Personal care tasks can also include things like getting dressed in appropriate clothes, styling hair, and ensuring medication is taken correctly. 

Some people may need help with these tasks on a daily basis because they have problems with their joints or strength. Even with safety rails installed, this can make getting in and out of a bath or shower or lowering themselves onto a toilet difficult or dangerous. 

Elderly man is shown a shirt by his live-in carer, as an option to wear for the day ahead.
Elderly woman brushing her teeth in the bathroom mirror

If someone is living with dementia, they may forget to do some personal care tasks, such as brushing their teeth or taking the right medication at the right time. 

Personal care is as much about preserving dignity as it is about hygiene and well-being. It can be difficult to accept help with such intimate tasks after a lifetime of managing independently. An older person may feel embarrassed, or find the idea of needing help patronising. It’s important when arranging personal care to involve them at every step – ensuring support is only offered where needed and that it’s delivered in a way they find the most comfortable.  

What does personal care include? 

While everyone’s experience of personal care will be different, some things a professional carer may help with include:

Providing continence carediscreetly supporting a person to reach and use the toilet safely or assisting with pads or toileting aids

Medication management – collecting prescriptions from the chemist  and offering reminders when it’s time to take medication, and helping to store medication correctly

Washing – this may range from simply helping a person into the shower or bath and checking the water temperature to avoid scalding, offering support with hard-to-reach areas when washing, or helping them to clean their entire body. If a patient is in bed and unable to move, a carer may be able to carry out a bed bath. 

Oral hygiene –  ensuring a person is brushing their teeth correctly, and at least twice a day. Carers may also be able to help with denture care – ensuring they’re cleaned and looked after properly 

Haircare – offering gentle support with hair washing and styling, or helping with shaving and facial grooming

Skin and nail care – applying body lotions to help skin stay healthy and moisturised, looking for and flagging signs of skin irritation, and keeping nails trim 

Bedtime routine –  providing mobility assistance, i.e. getting out of bed and into a standing position safely, and ensuring they have everything they need during the night such as a glass of water or a bedpan. Personal care assistants may also help a person to regularly move position in bed to avoid the risk of pressure ulcers 

Dressing and appearance – ensuring a person is dressed in clean and appropriate clothing that helps them feel good and look their best. Carers may also assist with applying make-up

Domestic tasks– ensuring a clean shower or bath, keeping toilets sanitised, ensuring bathroom floors are dry to avoid slips, and washing bath linens regularly

Are you in Scotland?

You may be eligible for free personal care from your local council. Click below to find out more.

When is personal care needed?

It can be difficult to know when the right time is to get some outside help with personal care. It’s common for the older generation to be uncomfortable talking about private things that happen in the bathroom, they may find it upsetting that they need help, or simply may not realise they do in the first place. 

There are some general signs you can look out for when trying to understand whether your loved one could benefit from personal care. 


  • If they’re wearing the same outfit every day, or regularly wearing dirty clothes
  • If they’re dressing inappropriately for the weather or a particular occasion, this could suggest they’re choosing clothes that are easy to put on
  • If their skin or hair is dirty, overly dry, or greasy, or they have an unpleasant body odour
  • If their hair is regularly very messy or tangled
  • If their finger and toenails are untrimmed
  • If they show signs of poor oral hygiene, for example, they have bad breath, are struggling to eat due to mouth ulcers, or have visible plaque on their teeth.
  • If they’re experiencing incontinence and toileting ‘accidents’

There may be other, more obvious occasions where personal care is needed too – 

  •  If they’re recovering from illness or surgery and need temporary help – This may to as convalescent care, or short-term care 
  • If their usual carer is uncomfortable with providing more intimate personal care services


Elder can help you arrange short-term care – connecting you to suitable professionals with personal care experience. Click below to find out more. 

An Elderly man in a wheelchair is accompanied by his wife outside of a village community centre.

Benefits of personal care

An older black man smiles at himself in the bathroom mirror after brushing his teeth.

First and foremost, promoting good personal hygiene supports physical health by preventing illness and the spread of infection. It may also help certain health complaints from getting worse or reoccurring, such as skin conditions or urinary tract infections. For families having someone there to monitor and encourage hygiene can provide a great deal of peace of mind. 

Speaking of family, having to provide personal care to an older relative can be a distressing experience for all involved. It may change your relationship and how you view one another or cause friction with other family members who aren’t sharing the responsibility.  Having someone you can rely on to take on intimate tasks can help you focus on enjoying time together as a family. 

Personal care may also promote better mental health. Looking and feeling your best is important in maintaining confidence and self-esteem. A warm bath and the use of scented products at the end of the day may help a person to relax and feel ready for bed too.

How to have a conversation about personal care

It’s not easy to talk about certain topics with the people close to us. Zoe Feldwick, an Integrative Therapeutic Counsellor and member of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, has shared her advice on establishing healthy communication and discussing difficult later life topics with family.

Specialised personal care

With certain medical conditions, the type of care required can differ significantly. At Elder, the 5000+ independent carers in our UK network offer a broad range of specialist skills and experience in providing complex care. 

Personal care and dementia

Personal care and hygiene, in particular, can become difficult for people living with dementia. They may forget to wash, find it difficult to accept help in the bathroom, or become agitated or confused when it comes to maintaining a personal care routine. 

Sometimes a quick verbal prompt can be enough. However, over time support needs can change as the dementia progresses, and carers can help make the gentle and considered changes to adjust to these emerging needs.

A regular personal carer will build a strong relationship with your loved one based on trust and understanding. The carer will offer support and encouragement and stick to well-established routines to help the person they’re caring for feel relaxed in their company. That could be as simple as ensuring a favourite, familiar shower gel is always used, or handing them the soap when it’s time to wash.

The role of any carer is to support the care recipient’s independence. In the case of dementia care, a personal carer will help the person they’re caring for to make their own choices when it comes to their personal care and retain vital skills for as long as possible. 

Choosing the right personal carer

A professional providing personal care is likely to become a fundamental component of your or your loved one’s life. Therefore it’s essential to consider personality as well as the relevant experience and training.

A personal care assistant should offer a friendly face and gentle encouragement. Above all, they should be someone you or your loved one is comfortable with, and trust.

It’s important to remember that even if you get on well outside the bathroom, a rapport and rhythm may not happen instantly when it comes to personal care. You may need to give it some time for things to naturally evolve. 

It’s crucial that a carer respects personal boundaries. The carer should be respectful of your or your loved one’s wishes and work to support their independence and dignity. You should always feel in control and able to freely voice when something isn’t done in your preferred way. 

A middle aged couple research care options on a smart phone, while surrounded by financial paperwork.
A young live-in carer arrives with a bunch of flowers on her first day with her new client.

How Elder can help

At Elder, we know how important it is to be comfortable with the person supporting you, so we have a dedicated matching service which helps to ensure just this – matching carers based on individual care needs and personalities.

From the very first step, you’ll retain control over how you’re cared for – outlining exactly which areas you want support with and detailing your daily personal routine. You can change and update this information at any time too. Our clinical team will review your appraisal to ensure live-in care is appropriate for your needs, and then you’ll be free to view and choose the carer you like best from a uniquely matched selection. 

What can’t a live-in carer help with? 

When you source a live-in carer through Elder, they’ll learn about your needs through the information you’ve shared in your online care profile, and work directly with you or your loved one to agree on where help is needed and the best and most comfortable approach to take when offering support. 

However, Independent Care Professionals on the Elder platform will not be expected to provide the following personal care support which is nurse-led, or requires specialist training to carry out safely.  

Find out more here 

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