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5 Tips for Good Hand Hygiene in an Assisted Living Community

With coronavirus headlines proliferating the news cycle, seniors and their family members have probably heard about the importance of good hand washing. But this seemingly easy task can be difficult to remember to do correctly, especially when you aren't used to incorporating it frequently during your day. And many people — of all ages — don't wash their hands long enough or correctly.

And hand washing is important even when a virus isn't spreading. Flus, colds and other bugs can be dangerous for seniors too, and they aren't something you want to share at any time.

Whether you're a resident of an assisted living community trying to keep yourself and your neighbors safe or someone visiting a loved one in their assisted living apartment, here are some creative tips for encouraging better hand hygiene in your day.

1. Wash Your Hands for 20 Seconds

If you haven't heard the 20-second rule, you haven't watched television or been around health care workers in the past decade. The Centers for Disease Control says to sing Happy Birthday twice while washing your hands if you want a timer to keep you on track, but that can get old when you're washing your hands numerous times each day.

Here are a few creative tips for clocking your hand washing session without relying on a stopwatch.

  • Pray as you wash your hands, and make it a point to think of four to five people you want to pray for. Then, take a few seconds to go to God with something specific about that person, such as "Lord, I'm praying for Jim now. I pray that you are with him and that he feels your presence as he wrestles with this decision about moving." It takes at least four to five seconds to come up with and pray each of those prayers, so if you include up to five people, you're definitely washing and praying for more than 20 seconds.
  • Ask Alexa (or another smart speaker) to play some music for you as you wash. Hit songs typically range from 3 to 5 minutes long and tend to follow a formula that arrives at the chorus in less than a minute, and often in around 30 seconds. If you wash your hands from the start of a favorite song to the chorus, you're probably getting the job done.
  • Use the time to get some exercise or stretching in — if you can do so safely. Marching in place, modified leg lifts, squats and hip exercises might be options that can be performed at the sink. If an exercise takes about 2 seconds to perform, do 10 of them before you stop washing and dry your hands.

2. Set an Alarm to Remind You to Wash Your Hands

Remembering to wash your hands can be difficult if you aren't already in the habit of doing so. If you're having trouble remembering to wash your hands at important times during the day, set alarms associated with meal times and wash your hands when they go off. Eventually, you will likely habitually wash your hands and can stop using the alarms.

3. Attach Hand Sanitizer to Specific Items

You can get hand sanitizer with a hook or key-chain type attachment. Attach the small bottles to specific items that might help you remember to use the sanitizer when necessary. For example, you could attach it to your car keys so you remember to use it when you're getting back into the car after being in a public space. Other options can include your pocketbook strap, your belt loop or your phone case.

4. Wash Your Hands Every Time You Enter Your Assisted Living Apartment

One thing that you want to avoid doing is carrying germs unnecessarily into your assisted living apartment. When you enter, before you do anything else, wash your hands. Require that guests do the same to help cut down on the germs that get left on your kitchen items, living furniture and bathroom area.

If you're not in the habit of washing your hands when you return to your apartment, consider putting a sign up to remind yourself. Or, place a piece of paper reminding you to wash your hands on your favorite chair. If you forget hand hygiene, you'll remember when you go to sit down for a rest.

5. Get Into the Habit of Washing Hands After Certain Activities

You don't have to constantly wash your hands. In fact, over attending to hand hygiene can cause other issues, including annoying dry skin. The CDC recommends some specific times when everyone should wash their hands. Here's when you should pay special attention to hand washing:

  • Food prep: wash your hands before you work with food, while you're in the process of working with food and when you're done
  • Before you eat any meal or snack
  • After using the toilet
  • After you blow your nose or cough/sneeze into your hands or a tissue in your hands
  • After touching garbage or other potentially contaminated items
  • Before and after caring for any type of wound
  • After you touch an animal or handle food or treats for animals

 And, in the current environment, it's probably a good idea to wash your hands if you've touched public surfaces of any type that you're not sure about.