Mom Is Hooked On Hand Sanitizer
"Since the COVID pandemic started, my mother has become obsessed with hand sanitizer. She has me buying two to three bottles a week, and believe it or not, she goes through all of it.
The most absurd thing about it is that she lives alone and doesn’t have many visitors. It’s as though she thinks COVID is on every surface, and she uses the sanitizer every time she touches something.
I’m afraid it’s just not good for her to use this much in a day. Goodness knows what she is absorbing with her excessive use. Would you provide some advice that I can share with her?"
That definitely is a lot of hand sanitizer for one person to go through in a week. One would think her hands would be raw after all of that alcohol has been applied to them.
Hand sanitizer is not meant to be a substitute for handwashing; rather, it is for use in situations where handwashing isn’t practical. In your own home, with the ready availability of kitchen and bathroom sinks, the use of hand sanitizer seems unnecessary.
Your mother seems to have a fear that every surface in her home has the COVID virus embedded in it. Assure her that that is unlikely. We have learned a lot about this virus in the past year and a half. If she doesn’t have many visitors, and if the few that do come don’t have COVID, her odds are quite low.
The most important thing she can do is get vaccinated, if she is not already. The incidence of COVID infection among those who are vaccinated is very low, and it’s mild when it does occur. The vaccination should be her first line of defense.
Washing her hands with soap and water before eating and when she uses the bathroom is likely adequate. She could go one step further and wash her hands after putting groceries away.
Other important facts to should share with your mother are:
- Hand sanitizer doesn’t kill all organisms. Norovirus and Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) are two that it doesn’t kill.
- Hand sanitizer relies on alcohol to kill organisms. Alcohol is very drying on the skin, requiring you to moisturize for crack and rash prevention.
- It doesn’t remove dirt. She needs water for that.
- Hand sanitizers may contain harmful ingredients.
- Some hand sanitizers contain triclosan, which can increase resistance to antibiotics.
- When used frequently, it builds up, rendering it less useful.
- Soap and water rinse away viruses. Hand sanitizer attempts to kill them, but may or may not get them all.
With that said, hand sanitizer is definitely a useful tool in the management of disease in healthcare and among the general public. As with anything, there are pros and cons to it. Provide your mother with well-researched information and articles about hand sanitizer and its use. Support her cautious nature when it comes to disease prevention, and encourage a more balanced approach that actually may be more protective.
I wish you well on this journey with mom.
Family Caregiving Advice Column
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