Mom and Dad, Alzheimer’s Disease and Showers

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.


About letstalkaboutfamily

I am a retired and was the primary caregiver for both my parents before they passed. I have children and grandchildren. This blog is an attempt to connect with other caregivers and share ideas and experiences. I hope you will let me know what worked for you if you had an experience similar to mine. The main issues I am going to talk about are elder care, death and dying, assisted living, family relationships and hoarders and hoarding. Other topics will come up as I address the issues and my relationship with other family members.
This entry was posted in Alzheimer's Disease, Assisted Living Facility, Caregiving, Elder Care, Eldercare and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Mom and Dad, Alzheimer’s Disease and Showers

  1. terry1954 says:

    you make me wonder if Al, my brother has changed more than i notice. since he lives with me i don’t see what maybe others see. so many more and more people i know say it is time to start thinking of placing him. my heart is hurting as i am able to connect with all that you say

  2. Terry, you might ask your friends what it is that they see. Then you can determine if it changes your idea of whether he should be living with you or elsewhere. You might also investigate where he would live if not with you and determine if that would be OK for you and for him. It isn’t something you can do in a day. Give yourself time to think about it, but allow others to help you see what they see. Good luck. You are putting so much of yourself into your brother’s care. You need to take care of yourself as well. That might be what your friends see — the effect of all this on you!

  3. Eva says:

    My two cents worth – Alzheimer’s Disease doesn’t consist of just memory loss and behavioral problems. It also constitutes functional decline especially in the Activities of Daily Living. Among that have to do with personal care. Among the ADL’s, the first that goes is bathing. This is because of the ADL’s, bathing is the most complex. To an Alzheimer’s patient, anything that involves more than a three step command becomes a complex task. If the patient is embarrassed to show his failures, then he stops doing the task altogether. I’ve patients who are given a bar of soap and all they do is hold it. Or others may lather or soap but towel dry without rinsing.


    • Thanks, Eva. I agree that bathing/showering difficulties is one of the early signs in Alzheimer’s. I wrote this tonight to point out that we missed that sign for a long time. One usually showers alone, so it is easy at first to pretend to be doing it without actually taking that shower. Only retrospectively can I tell that we should have realized what was happening long before we did.

      • Eva says:

        I re-blooged this post. I hope you didn’t mind. For the benefit of others who are similarly situated, now or in the future. Thank you!


  4. Eva says:

    Reblogged this on where'smyT-backandotherstories and commented:
    Among the Activities of Daily Living, the first one that goes is bathing. This blog asks and shows why. From the blog of letstalkaboutfamily (Helping My Elderly Parents)

  5. kimjoy24 says:

    This is all sadly true. I’ve written about how my dad would stand in the shower, put the shampoo on his head and work it up to a lather, and then ask my mom,,”Now what?”

    My mom broke her shoulder while my dad was declining in health and while she is still attentive to bathing, it is quite difficult for her to wash her hair by herself. I’ve encouraged her to go to the hair salon more, but she’s sometimes going 4 weeks or more between visits! I should at least get her some of that dry shampoo that you comb in. I’m not a fan of the stuff but it might help.

    • Perhaps you could find an aide or companion to visit your mom weekly and help her wash her hair. I live in a senior independent community and sometimes neighbors have had companions cometo help them when they were recovering from a fall. Otherwise the dry hair cleaner does help some but doesn’t give the same feeling as newly washed hair.

      • kimjoy24 says:

        That’s a good idea. She had an aide that came in 2x week right after her fall, which was covered by insurance for a short period of time. They would help her bathe, do physical therapy with her, etc. She loved the companionship.

      • A non medical aide could provide companionship and help with showers and hair washing at a slightly lower hourly cost. But the cost would not be covered by insurance. Still it is oftentimes worth it. I had companions come visit dad daily when I was out of town and they helped keep him engaged in something other than sleeping in his chair. And they provided me with valuable feedback on how he was doing.

  6. This posts hits close to home for me. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal situation and know you’re story indeed helps others.

    • Thanks for visiting my blog and for your comment. I have found that sharing my situation helps me to connect with others who are going through the same experiences as I am. It helps me build a support network.

  7. magsx2 says:

    A very well written post. A friends Father had Alzheimer’s, so very hard on everyone, emotionally and physically.

  8. My parents are long gone and did not have Alzheimer’s but since you visited my post, I wanted to return the favor. I appreciate that you are sharing your experiences. For several years I was a Home Care Dept. Manager in Detroit metro area and visited and provided services for many very ill and dying elderly persons. I will never forget those experiences. Thanks for the post; I will be back– and stop by mine again sometime!

  9. jwillowens says:

    Hi, my name is John William Owens. I came across your blog today and want to share with you what my friends and I are doing this summer. We’re cycling 3,000 miles from Canada to Key West to raise awareness and funds for the Alzheimer’s Association. We are dedicating each day of our 2 month ride to a different family affected by Alzheimer’s. If you don’t mind, I’d like ot dedicate one of my days to your family.

  10. Wow, John — that is quite a commitment to Alzheimer’s. I don’t object to you dedicating a day to us, but I will remind you that this blog is anonymous in order to protect the privacy of all family members including the siblings that sometimes get mentioned. I draw a lot of support from the caregiving community and I am honored to have you dedicate a day to us.

  11. mimijk says:

    I lost my dad eight years ago to Lewy Body disease – a form of Parkinson’s that also carries the additional weight of dementia. I truly know the challenge you are facing, and urge you not to be too hard on yourself. This is a marathon-like good-bye, and the days fold into each other, with time and behaviors slowly devolving. I hope you draw support from this community and give yourself the emotional width and breadth that you need for this commitment. Your post was eloquent and touched my heart.

    • Thank you, Mimi. Since dad is already in his mid-90’s I hope he will reach his natural passing time before the Alzheimer’s takes the rest of him away! At the urging of my friends, I did cut back the number of days I see him from 6-7 to 4 each week. It does take a lot out of me, but at least he is here, whereas mom is gone now.

  12. Casey says:

    Oh, the bathing/showering thing is horrific in my mom’s case. She is very much physically compromised, but she can battle like a Trojan when it comes to getting into the shower! She’s living with my sister and her family in her own home (we bought it purpose-built so she could do that and mom wouldn’t go nuts because of my sister’s kids…mom’s not a “kid fan’). My sister (Libby) has someone come in for three hours twice a week to spell her off and to bathe mom. It invariably turns into a fight, so Libby “gets out of Dodge” until the three hours are up.

    • Yes, it is getting worse with dad too. This week he refused shower and shave on Saturday and on Tuesday, his days for such. So it had been a week on Tuesday when they tried again. I was visiting and told him he really needed both the shower and shave. Finally he agreed to the shave but not the shower. He did look better, but still needed a shower! I am afraid as his Alzheimer’s progresses, this issue will become more and more difficult. I know people with AlHeimer’s seem to fear showers. Just one more thing to worry about!

  13. srsck says:

    It’s a confronting blog. Thanks for sharing. Good luck with your dad.

  14. Tonia says:

    My dad will go weeks without showering or changing his clothes! He says it’s too hard for him, though it just started when he was briefly in an assisted living facility before moving in with me & my husband. He didn’t like that the told hi, when he could shower so he refused & now he just says it’s not necessary. I don’t want to hurt his feelings so I don’t argue about it. But don’t know what to do.

    • Tonia, My dad was the same way for years before I knew he had dementia. I would have your dad checked out for dementia with his regular physician, geriatric physician or especially a neurologist that specializes in dementia, then you might need to get a home health care aide to help get him to shower. I was never successful (nor was mom) in getting dad to shower until he moved into assisted living. At first he did not object there, but later he did. Still they were trained to work with people like dad and they were able to get him to shower and shave. Good luck with your dad.

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