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Posted: May 19, 2008

Practical Caregiving

What to Do When Day-to-Day Caregiving Cooperation Falls Short

The day-to-day chores of caring for an aging parent are tiring and seemingly relentless. Cooperation is critical both from the elderly loved one and the siblings of caregivers.

Carrie, in Houston, and Laurel, in Kansas City, know what I’m talking about. They’ve written me for advice on their own frustrating situations. Let’s see what turns up, as I respond to their requests in my e-mailbag.


Dear Jean: 

We have a terrible situation. Mom has Alzheimer's disease and still lives at home with Dad. She can do most things for herself, but we do keep her away from the kitchen stove. The problem is that she doesn't take a shower or bath. She says she takes them, but no one has seen her walk into the bathroom to do it. When we suggest it, she makes excuses and says she will do it later.

Jean, she smells awful! She has never been this way before and we can't understand it. What is her problem?

Carrie P., Houston, Texas

Dear Carrie: 

My Mom did the same thing, and I felt the same way you do. My feelings were misguided, though. The simple truth is that people with Alzheimer's disease fight bathing. Mom never stopped fighting it, and your mother probably won't either. 

Try to think of your mother as a little child instead of your mother. A little child goes through a stage where they don’t want to take a bath. But their parent has to make sure the child does take a bath. You mother probably won’t ever like to take a bath, but you must insist hygiene is just too important to let it slide.

You also must give her a bath yourself, or have someone else do it. Her overall health and the health of her skin depends on her being clean. 

For me, it was easier for someone else to give Mom a bath. She cooperated better with them than with me. That's probably because I was her daughter. You might find the same thing. The important thing is to get her clean on a regular basis and keep her clean. It doesn’t matter who gives her the bath. It may even take two people to give her a bath, without hurting her. 

As her disease progresses, you will find that you, your father and other members of your family all will need to take over doing things for her. When she starts needing adult diapers, someone will have to put them on her. When she can not feed herself any longer, someone will have to feed her. This is the start of your getting accustomed to doing things for her. I’m afraid you’ve got no choice but to accept it.


Dear Jean: 

Dad needs help, and I am the only one who does anything for him. There are five of us kids, but the others always find an excuse not to help. They say they will help, but they never do. Why won't they help with Mom and Dad?

Laurel S., Kansas City, Kansas

Dear Laurel: 

Most of the time, caregiving for an elderly parent falls primarily to one adult child in the family. Knowing that doesn't make it easier for you, but I hope it will help you feel better about your situation. 

There are several reasons why all the children in a family don't help with the care of their parents. Their personal situation may make it so they can't help. They may live too far away. They may not have the emotional ability to help. They may think you're doing it all and don't need their help. They may want to help, but not know what to do. 

Why don't you make of list of everything you do for your Dad? Look it over and ask your brothers and sisters if they could help with specific things. Some may be able to give you a break by doing what you do for your Dad. Others may pay for someone else to give you that much-needed break. Some may be willing to pick up prescriptions. Some may be able to take him to the doctor. 

Another approach might be for everyone to pitch in with a certain amount of money every month. The amount depends on the number of siblings in the family and their financial situation. Quite often, family members feel guilty if they can’t help in some way. This is a way they can help, and it would make it possible for you to hire someone to come in and give you a break. 

You may get the help you want and need, but you may not. Either way, it's worth a try. 

Try not to become bitter toward your brothers and sisters. It takes a special ability to take care of your Dad; not everyone has that ability. Down deep, they may want to help, but they find they can't. It may not be a choice they make, but just the way they are.

© 2008 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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