How can I best care for my mom's hair and skin?

4 answers | Last updated: Oct 02, 2016
Linda. asked...

How can I best care for my mom's hair and skin? Although my mom is only 77, Alzheimer's Disease has really accelerated her aging process. She looks a lot older than 77. Her skin is very thin and dry and her hair is thinning and wiry. I only wash her hair once a week with a combination shampoo/conditioner and then put a little leave-in conditioner in her hair. Even so, her hair looks terrible. It is a short bob style (she doesn't want it shorter) and we get her hair cut and colored every 6 to 8 weeks.

Her skin is so thin you can see her veins clearly through it. I only have her bathe once a week because it is just too drying.

Any suggestions from the pros out there?

Expert Answers

Jessica J. Krant, MD, MPH, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology, including Mohs micrographic skin cancer surgery. In addition to her work in private practice, Krant is assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Linda, I can hear the distress in your words. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's is heartbreaking enough, but when you know your mom was always so attentive to her appearance, it can be a struggle to try to help her keep it up. Caring for elderly hair and skin can be very tricky. You are right. Skin does thin and get drier with age, as does hair. Hair also grows less well, so long, thick, strong hair strands are rare.

You are smart not to overbathe your mom's skin. She really only needs a spongebath under the arms, in the groin area, and maybe on the feet. The back too, if she spends a lot of time lying down. Limbs don't really need soap and water. I'm sure you are putting a moisturizer on her skin too, to keep it more supple, but one ingredient that could be helpful to keep the skin more robust is some lactic acid (such as in Am-Lactin or Lac-Hydrin moisturizers). Lactic acid signals some skin thickening and helps the cells plump up to withstand friction better.

For her hair, I am not sure if you are aware of some of the "dry shampoos" that can take oils out of the hair and allow it to be fluffier throughout the week, without washing. For the thinning, there isn't much you can do but if it's a matter of her feeling better about how she looks, you and she might consider the sprays that "fill in" thinning with hair-like fibers, or even a wig that looks like how she used to style herself.

Since I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "her hair still looks terrible" (too thin, too greasy, too dry, doesn't hold style), it's hard for me to think of other suggestions right now, but the ones I mentioned may be helpful. I wish you luck. You are doing the right thing, trying to help her feel she looks her best.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

Hello! Hope I can help!

Take a look at some more organic options for caring for your mother's skin and hair. For example, an alpha hydroxy moisturizer (mentioned by the Derm) IS great but the ones with fruit acids - have a better scent. When I say fruit acids, these could be citrus or acai-it will be listed on the jar. Also a moisturizer with grapeseed oil will penetrate much more quickly (the molecules are smaller) and will leave her skin softer and feeling good. I prefer this over petroleum-based products like lotions with mineral oil, etc.

Also look for a skin cleanser that does not have sulfates - try the baby care aisle! - which will be much more gentle on her skin and hair. I used the "seven washcloth" system of bathing my Dad: one for the face, one for each arm, each leg, the torso, and one for the groin. Thoroughly wet the cloths, roll them up, and put them in a plastic bag in the microwave for less than a minute. You'll have warm cloths without the mess of a bowl of water.

As for her hair, skip the all-in-one shampoo/conditioner. These weigh down the hair. Look for a sulfate-free shampoo that will rinse very quickly and easily. If her hair is short enough, you can do the whole process with a quart spray bottle of water. Get a microfiber towel for her hair and body. You'll dry her in seconds and they are very soft and lightweight. Skip the conditioner, too. I think you might have too many conditioning products on her hair. Rather, add a drop-and I mean drop!- of a styling creme. Aveda makes a great one and you'll probably NEVER use the whole bottle. See how that works.

Check out the website for more product suggestions for folks over fifty. They have a product line coming out with all of these options. Again, head for the baby care aisle! Get a microfiber towel for hair and body ( the washcloths are great, too!) and please, if she goes outside, don't forget the sunscreen of at least 15SPF. Her delicate skin could easily get damaged. Again, try baby sunscreen! BEST OF LUCK!

A fellow caregiver answered...

Sounds like you are one considerate daughter or son. By any chance is your mother's skin/hair problem complicated by a thyroid condition? Ask your doctor to check. As far as products and treatments, what works for one does not work for all and ph levels of the hair respond to different products' ph levels. Try to get some samples and test. Some companies are glad to send samples, contact the customer relations department. As far as the skin, I had great luck with good old Mineral Oil. We poured some into a baggie and let hands "soak" for about 10 minutes. All the old skin shed and the new layer was fresh and soft for a long period of time. This also works by applying the oil liberally to arms, legs and feet and wrapping loosely with Glad Wrap (or other plastic wrap) NOT THE FACE OR HEAD OF COURSE. Be sure you have a good supply of towels handy as this can get messy, but well worth it. It might be easier to reach agreement to try it out if you take a "spa day" and both of you participate. Who knows, it might just be fun. Blessings.

Tonytiger answered...

Anonymous' suggestions are wonderful and I just want to tell Anon how much I appreciate them.