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Posted: June 07, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Do You Feel Like You Got More Than You Bargained For?

Doree willingly entered into the sandwich generation four years ago when she added caring for an elderly family member to her numerous other tasks of everyday life. But she wonders whether she really bargained for what she?s dealing with now as her husband?s grandmother has become more forgetful and grouchy.

These are challenges Doree hadn?t expected, and she needs help ? physically and emotionally. Where can she find the help, and what can she do to deal with an especially pesky problem of her loved one refusing to bathe?

This is one of the latest challenging situations to pop up in my e-mailbag. Be sure you let me know if you would like me to try and help.


Dear Jean,

My husband?s grandmother is 91 years old and has forgotten how to . . . well, EVERYTHING! No one else in the family will take care of her, or has the patience to, either. So that leaves me. And I have been doing it for four years now -- with only one vacation and that was this past March.

I also have an 11-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter to care for, as well as my husband. And I do NOT mind at all. I have cooked and cleaned and made sure she baths and everything else.

Lately, she refuses to bath. And when she does, it's a fight to wash her clothes -- she wants to put the same dirty ones back on! She is literally like a 2-year-old who was told "No" in a candy store! She throws a tantrum! I am so afraid she is going to hurt herself.

I can't get anyone else in the family to help me with this, they just have no patience with her. I have no help whatsoever with her. I have no idea where to even look for help. So, thank God for your website. I'd appreciate any advice.

Doree M., Las Vegas, Nevada

Dear Doree,

You really have your hands full. I?m sure your family appreciates all your loving care. Perhaps someday they will nominate you for mother of the year ? no kidding!

But, first things first.

The first thing you need to do is ask your grandmother-in-law?s doctor what he can do to see that you get help for her. There are probably specific aids he can suggest or even help arrange for you.

For example, there are in-home, healthcare agencies - both mediacl and non-medical - that send help to your house. You can call the home healthcare agencies yourself and they will tell you what you need to do -- but you really should call the doctor first to get him in the loop on your needs. Doctors and home healthcare agencies know what it takes to get the government to pay for the help.

When Mom and Dad needed help, the government paid for it. The home healthcare agencies sent help for periods anywhere from two hours every day to two hours a couple times a week. The health aides will help give baths and other things that make it easier for you to be the caregiver. I couldn't have taken care of both Mom and Dad without the help I received.

When someone is there to help, of course you can still offer your assistance. Sometimes they might need it. It also helps if you cultivate a relationship with the health aide, but don?t get overly close. The agency will probably change the aides who come to your house at a certain point and you may need to change agencies for any number of reasons along the way.

The agency needs to prove that your husband?s grandmother is improving in order to continue sending help. If they don?t see that improvement, they will have to discharge your husband?s grandmother from care. That?s when you call a different agency. You might be able to get help again. Some agencies are better than others, but any help is better than none. I went through several agencies with my parents, so be prepared for that.

I do need to warn you about one thing. Most of the people who come into a home to help are good, honest people. However, occasionally there are others who wiggle their way into the profession, and shouldn?t be there. Make sure you are satisfied that the person is trustworthy before leaving to run an errand or take time for yourself. I would also recommend that under all circumstances you lock up any valuables in the house. No need to create a temptation for even the best of us!

The problem with bathing is common. When my mother first resisted bathing, I was totally embarrassed, but I later found that it was normal for the elderly. It would help to have another person bathing her and you helping rather than doing it all yourself. She might be less cranky with someone else.

These are some suggestions that might help with bathing:

  • Increase the room temperature so she won?t feel so cold.
  • Get towels, soap and anything else you use ready before you even talk to her about a bath.
  • Tell her what you are going to do -- and be very patient. She may not understand for a while and you may need to tell her several times. Tell her what you are going to do, what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  • Test the water to make sure it isn?t too hot or too cold. Also, remember that when people test the water temperature with gloves on, it may be much hotter than they think. I tried this and found that the water I thought was the right temperature with gloves on was actually too hot.
  • You may need to hold something in front of her so she doesn?t feel so naked
  • Be gentle. Her skin probably is more sensitive than it was 10 years ago. Wash gently, and you may need to pat her dry instead of rubbing.
  • You can wet her hair with a washcloth and soap and then rinse it. Less water will get in her face this way.
  • Try to distract her as you wash her. Talk about something else, play music or do whatever might distract her in a pleasant way.
  • Experiment between a shower and a tub bath, and vary the time of day to find out what works best for her.
  • You might find that a sponge bath works better than giving a normal bath or shower all the time. An older person usually has dry skin and washing too often will make the dryness worse.
  • Make sure the area is safe with non-slip adhesives on the floor of the tub or shower and that there are grab bars.

© 2004 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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