A Clean Bill of Health: Research Reveals How to Improve Hand Hygiene among Older Adults

In a study that earned a 2018 silver  Mather LifeWays Innovative Research on Aging Award,  researchers attempted to discover a simple approach to a serious problem: improve hand hygiene to combat the spreading of infections that often target hospitalized older adults. Prior to this study, there was belief that even through wall dispensers and sinks could be used, there are behavior and resource barriers such as mobility issues for older adults and staff’s scarce availability. Likewise, there seems to be a lack of information shared on just how important hand hygiene is.

The researchers recruited 75 older adults who had just had non-emergent surgery. Of those, 41 received personalized prerecorded audio prompts from nurses or family members three times a day for three days. They also had a bottle of hand sanitizer mounted to their table, along with an educational video and a handout about hand hygiene, in order to offset that possible knowledge deficit. The other group of older adults received only the video and handout on the importance of hand hygiene.

What the researchers found was evidence that older adults can be in control of their own hand hygiene, even when external barriers are present such as their own mobility and their nurses being busy. Older adults who heard the voice recording cleaned their hands four or five times per day, while the other group averaged just one or two times a day.

This study is quite impressive, because it found a simple and affordable solution to a problem that can affect so many. The study also highlights the importance of moving toward technology to help engage older adults and improve their physical health.


Knighton SC, Dolansky M, Donskey C, et al. Use of a verbal electronic audio reminder with a patient hand hygiene bundle to increase independent patient hand hygiene practices of older adults in an acute care setting. American Journal of Infection Control (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.ajic.2018.01.005


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