Sometime during the years that mom and dad were living in the mobile home, dad had stopped taking showers. I don’t think any of us could pinpoint exactly when he stopped, but the last year mom and dad were living independently it was clear that dad was not using his shower stall.
While dad was working, he showered and shaved every day. After he retired, he continued to get up early and shower and shave for many years. But over the years, things slowly changed. Dad has been retired for over 30 years now. He used to be the first one up every morning, long after he retired from work. Often after he got up, he would make enough noise so everyone else would feel compelled to be up too.
Mom preferred to sleep in until 8. Slowly she convinced him to just have his coffee and read the paper while she slept in. After a few more years, dad was getting up the same time as mom. As more time went by, mom was up well before dad. In the last 2 years they lived independently, mom was waking dad up at 10 AM if he didn’t get up by himself before that.
Mom was always in the habit of taking a bath about twice a week and washing her hair once a week. She believed it would dry out your hair to wash it more than once a week. And she used pretty harsh soaps (Ivory soap) and shampoo, so it was probably true that she would be drying out her skin and hair by bathing more often.
Dad stopped shaving regularly a few years ago. Suddenly it became an issue for mom to nag dad about. She would ignore the beard for a few days and then start to nag. It was especially important to her before they went to the doctor or went out to eat that he should shower and shave. She would nag several times a day until finally dad would go into the bathroom and come out clean-shaven. She felt it reflected poorly on her if dad went out in the neighborhood with a shaggy beard, etc.
Once when I was visiting mom commented that dad couldn’t be really taking a shower when he said he was. It seems he had filled the shower stall in his bathroom with all the treasures he had purchased at garage sales. I went into his bathroom after he sat down with his coffee. Mom was right. There was no dampness, no sign he had taken a shower. He had just managed to shave.
When they went into the first assisted living facility, mom and dad were assisted with their showers twice a week. Moms complained that they made her shower and wash her hair each time. At first I thought she was made to shower every day and I asked the nurse about it. The nurse told me they were required to shower and wash their hair twice a week. I told mom if she would wash her hair herself, they wouldn’t make her do it. But she insisted she didn’t want to wash it more than once a week.
Interestingly, dad didn’t complain about his showers and being shaved while they were at their first assisted living facility. He just went along with it until after mom had passed away and we moved up north.
At first I didn’t realize that up here he was just given a shower once a week. After I learned that, I asked that he have a shower twice a week as it soon became apparent when he had gone more than a couple of days without a shower. Than a few months after he moved into the 2nd assisted living facility and about the same time that he moved back to 2 showers per week, he started to fight the aides when they tried to shower and shave him. Some days he just outright refused, after yelling and even cursing at the aides.
The nurse asked me to talk to him about it but he just insisted that he didn’t curse and he didn’t refuse his shower. Over the past year they have learned to walk away when he refuses and just try again later. Sometimes he just lets them shower and shave him, and other days they have to try 3 or 4 times or even wait until the next day to get his cooperation.
I have come to realize that mom and dad were both slowly declining over the years. Mom became more of a nag, yelling at dad frequently. She also let her own housecleaning and grooming decline as well. I was aware that mom had vision problems and attributed her lack of cleanliness to her vision problems. Now, looking back, I would say the dementia she was starting to suffer also contributed to her decline in grooming and cleaning.
Dad had a stroke more than 10 years ago. I think now that slowly after that he began to start the slow decline into Alzheimer’s as well. Originally his early dementia was attributed to his stroke, but his neurologist felt there was very little after effect from that stroke. His general physician said dad had a slow form of Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t know if he tried to explain this to mom and dad or not as mom refused to believe there was anything wrong with dad.
Mom felt that since she got up every day, cleaned (a little) shopped and cooked, that dad should also do the chores he always did, including his showers, shaving, fixing up and repairing things around the house. Dad became less and less able to do much but sit in his Lazy Boy chair all day. This really annoyed mom. I tried to explain that dad had Alzheimer’s. I said: “Mom, dad is old!” Mom said she was old too and she still did everything.
After they moved into the assisted living facility, much of this bickering stopped. Mom was becoming more and more confused. She realized she was confused and stopped yelling at dad for just sitting in his chair. Dad was happy with assisted living and glad to just sit and “relax”.
Things suddenly changed when mom fell, broke her hip and passed away as I wrote about in “The Emotional Toll of Caregiving”. Dad was grieving, but rarely complained. He was thankful to be in assisted living and anxious to move to another assisted living facility closer to my home in the north.
Now dad has pretty much settled into a routine. He allows the aides to shower him most of the time. And the aides just postpone the shower when he refuses. I look back and see things I should have seen sooner about both mom and dad. I thought things were going fairly well for them the last 2 years they lived independently. I was wrong. Things were slowly deteriorating and the inevitable result was the crisis that made me move them into assisted living.
It is difficult for family members to evaluate their elderly parents from a distance. Mom and dad had me fooled for quite some time. It wasn’t until I retired and spent 3 months at a time living near mom and dad that I could see how much they had changed. Now that dad is in a stable living situation (and ignoring the problem he had last week when they ran out of his blood pressure medication) I feel he is doing better than he has for a long time.