Monday, February 22, 2010

Thoughts on Showering

Alzheimer's Reading Room: Cleanliness is Next to Godliness -- Let's take a Shower

I read this article from the Alzheimer Reading Room today and it got me thinking so here is my response to this article.  I included the first two paragraphs of my response as a comment at the end of the article.

I have to agree the shower/bath issue is a very challenging aspect of caring for the Alzheimer patient.  Mom too also dislikes taking a shower.  She especially dislikes water over her face.  I know Alzheimer patients typically do not like to be in the water and with mom she has the added dimension of never learning to swim so water to her has always had a fear component attached.

Lily grew up in Ireland so she has always felt Americans spend too much time in the shower anyway.  As kids, as long as we took a bath or shower once or twice a week, she was happy with that.  As a teenager though I too fell into the American pattern of showering everyday.  My kids (age 18 & 21) sometimes take 2 showers per day!
However I have really never forgotten my roots so when Mom stopped taking regular showers on her own, I thought to myself why push this issue.  I am content with her taking a shower 2-3 times per week.  She has an aide on Thursdays who makes sure she showers and then I do the same on Tuesday and once during the weekend.  I feel it is important as caregivers to recognize when relaxing some of our own high standards might be in the best interest of our loved ones and relieve some of the stress we deal with each day.

With mom I just say time for your shower and off we go. I don’t ask her if she wants to take one or go into any reasons why showering is important.  Often I find the less I try to convince the better.  I tell her to get undressed and then I go gather up clean clothes.  She is able to turn on the water herself and hop in, however I always check the temperature because I have found on occasion the water to be quite hot or even cold and she obviously does not recognize that.

Recently I started washing Lily’s hair once per week.  I had assumed (wrongly) that Lily had been washing her own hair except on the occasions of going to the salon because her hair never looked oily and did not smell bad.  However last visit to the salon they showed me where her scalp in the back of her head was a little crusty, red, and scratched (although I have never seen her scratch her head).  At that point I realized I was not doing a good job in this area, therefore I have added the weekly task of shampooing to my list.
While shampooing her hair  I noticed that if I hold her hand the whole time her head is under the water for rinsing she is much more relaxed.  I also have a towel close by to help her dry her eyes immediately when getting out.  She too just washes the most important areas and I take her for periodic pedicures so her feet get a good soak!

Once Lily is in the shower I remove all her dirty clothes because if I don’t she tends to put them back on.  I then do her hair and make up. I suppose this is where it gets a little tricky.   I could still let her do her own hair and make up because she would.  The problem is that with her hair she just wets it and brushes it straight back which looks terrible.  With her make up she paints on black, brown, or blue eyebrows whichever color she finds first and cakes on her make up.   I have made a conscious decision to take over these jobs knowing that she will forget how and also knowing I am ratcheting her independence down another notch because………
Lily has always cared so much about her appearance.  Her make up and hair always had to be on to leave the house.  She would be mortified knowing I was letting her be seen by others looking bad or that people might be talking about the old lady with the blue eyebrows.    Same with her clothes, she always dressed so nice and now does not have that same capability so I always try to make sure her clothes are clean, matching, and look nice.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Kerry,
    This entry was so poignant...I found myself thinking about it several times throughout the day. I asked Allie to read it as well, and then we had a conversation about whether she would remember to pluck my monthly single, stubborn chin hair! She promised she would! You are such a wonderfully devoted daughter...Lily is lucky to have you.....Karen Weprin

  3. Just read your shower article-you take good care of her in so many ways. Rick's grandmother hated showers in the nursing home. She was always an impeccable dresser and looked perfectly put together.
    But in the nursing home they didn't dress her well, her hair looked bad, no bra, etc. She would have been horrified to look that way when she was lucid. One thing I was surprised about with her is that she was a devout Catholic-but her faith meant nothing to her once she became demented. She didn't want her rosary or anything. Never heard her speak of her faith in God or anything like she wanted to go home with the Lord or anything of that nature. Do you think that your Mom still has faith? Could be a future topic. I hope I take care of my Mom as well as you do.