Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bath Day

When Mom came to live with us it soon became apparent that she needed help with bathing. She was resentful of my bumbling efforts to help because she did not remember that she had stopped showering on her own. I really couldn’t blame her because from her perspective it must have seemed that I had taken bossiness to the extreme by giving her directions on what to do with a washcloth. But the fact remained that we had installed a brand new handicapped accessible shower that was not being used.

Then, Mom fell and broke her shoulder and this proved to be a blessing in disguise. She understood that her injury provided a valid reason for me to be invading her personal space, and so the transition to accepting help with the bathing process was facilitated. By the time she had healed our shower day rituals had become routine, and she no longer felt that something unusual or downright weird was happening when her daughter offered to help her to the shower stall.

I’ve recorded here some of the bath day strategies that I have learned through trial and error. They are not meant to be specific instructions for any other caregiver and patient. I’ve purposely avoided recording actual procedures because, 1) I don’t know what I’m doing, never having received training for How to Bathe Someone Else, and, 2) I don’t want you to drop your loved one on the bathroom floor and then to blame me. My intention is to provide help for you to transition emotionally to the role of cleanliness supervisor for your loved one and to provide a few helpful hints that I’ve discovered on my own. Please take any actual plans of action to your health care provider for approval and for goodness sake don’t try, by yourself, to bathe someone who has poor balance or is in danger of falling—wet surfaces are slippery, people!! Consult a health care professional for specific safety procedures. You can also contact your local counsel on aging for a list of professionals who can bathe your loved one.

If you end up being the designated bath day facilitator, your attitude should be cheerful and matter-of-fact. A strategy that works with my mom is for me to act as though we’d agreed earlier that bathing was a good idea—or that perhaps even that it was her idea! I don’t know whether this is typical of most Alzheimer’s patients who are in the mid-stages of the disease, but my mother has accepted the fact that she has trouble remembering and is adept at reading the ‘signals’ others send to her in her present moment. If I am apologetic, my mother reacts with irritation to the whole procedure of bathing because she is responding to my signals that she is somehow being wronged. But if I say, “Mom, you asked about a bath today and I can help you with that now,” she is happy. I am performing a service for her that she’s requested. It gives her a sense of dignity and control. Of course, this can backfire. She might decide that since it was her idea in the first place, that she then has the option of changing her mind. At that point I have to gently overrule her saying, “Oh but Mom I have time now to help you and I won’t later, and I really want you to get cleaned up like you wanted.” This is done in love and not in order to manipulate. I help my mother to feel and to react in the way that I know that her pre-Alzheimer’s mind would have very much wanted to do.
Here are the aforementioned “helpful hints”:
  • Medicare will pay for periodic trips to the podiatrist for foot care for the elderly. Check this out. I do Mom’s nails at home at the end of her bath time when the nails are softened and easier to cut, but this is not recommended, especially if your loved one has circulation problems or diabetes.
  • During bath time, verbal directions may work for a patient in the early to mid-stages of Alzheimer’s. I can talk my mom through the process of bathing without having to take over the entire procedure for her.
  • I become queasy when exposed to normal body odors that originate from some source other than MY body. This is not a stellar trait for a caretaker. If you are like me, use cold water to rinse washcloths that have been used where the sun don’t shine. The steam from a hot water rinse brings odors straight to your olfactory system.
  • My mother compulsively picks open places into her skin with her fingernails, especially on her face, earlobes, and upper back. Our nurse practitioner tells me that this isn’t uncommon for Alzheimer’s patients. It is important to cover these areas with antibiotic ointment and Band-Aids and to change the bandages daily. Consult your health care professional for a description of the signs of infection, and take your loved one to the doctor immediately if any of these symptoms develop.
No one wants to become the child who is in charge of bathing her parent. In our so-far-easy experience with Alzheimer’s disease, bathing my mom has been the issue that has caused me the most angst by far. My comfort to others who are facing this unpleasant assignment of bathing an Alzheimer’s patient is simple but powerfully true; God is with you as He has been with us.

Scripture: In all their troubles, he was troubled too. He didn't send someone else to help them. He did it himself, in person. Out of his own love and pity, He redeemed them. He rescued them and carried them along for a long, long time.
Isaiah 63:9 The Message

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Traumatized Caroler

The caroler boy's wide-eyed stare may reveal the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, while his pompom clearly suffered damage in the attack (see story below).

Friday, December 7, 2007

Caroler Survives Cat Attack

I have once again been defeated by the Alzheimer's Care Cat.

Bobbi the cat is a wonderful pet for mom, but she is very much a one person cat. It doesn't matter that I feed her and brush her; she does not like me. And she doesn't seem to notice that it is I, not my mother, who sifts through her box each day with a specially designed slotted scoop. This protects her dainty paws from coming into contact with the lumps in her self-clumping cat litter which, by the way, costs a lot more than the other kind. I know, because I am the one who buys the stuff. But the cat does not appreciate me.

While Bobbi makes it clear that she loves my mother best of all, her affection does not translate to obedience. She shows typical feline disdain for any request my mother makes of her as in, "Kitty, don't eat the poinsettia." Bobbi eats the poinsettia anyway which hasn't harmed her yet, although there have been a few more clumps to sift each morning since the poinsettia arrived.

Another area of Bobbi's rebellion has to do with Mother's blue china carolers. They are a little boy and girl, each about 18 inches tall and cunningly painted in shades of blue with white cotton pompoms atop of their blue china hats. They stand next to a lamp post, mouths open in perfect o's, songbooks held aloft. Mother loves them.

The problem is that Bobbi cannot abide seeing the blue china carolers standing upright. She waits until Mom goes to bed and then knocks them over like bowling pins. We have a baby monitor in Mom's room with the receiver in our bedroom so that if Mom calls for us in the night we can respond immediately. Each evening of late I have heard Mom's voice over the monitor saying, "Kitty, stop that." This reprimand is inevitably followed by a loud crash with Mother's final, futile cry of, "KITTY, STOP THAT" echoing in the background. Each morning I've set the carolers back into place because Mom hasn't been able to bear the thought of parting with them. I have been trying them in different locations on the floor in order to protect them from falling from a height when Bobbi knocks them over.

Tonight Mom shouted at the cat and then I heard her calling my name in panicked tones. I ran to her room, flung open the door and saw the cat dragging the blue china boy away by the pompom of his hat. She looked uncannily like a mountain lion with its prey as she slunk furtively toward the closet where her food and water are kept, dragging the unfortunate singer to her lair.

I rescued the caroler gingerly--although Bobbi has been declawed her teeth are fully functional and she did not want to give up her conquest. Mom sadly admitted that the carolers were no longer safe in her apartment and now they are gracing my dining room table. The pompom on the boy caroler's hat is about triple the size it was initially, but other than that the blue china carolers have escaped without harm the trauma of being at Bobbi's mercy.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

God is the Author of the Story of My Life

Today my son called, telling me that a young man that he knew of through a friend had been killed. This boy, whose name was Andrew, was just 17-years-old. A 16-year-old girl was driving the pickup that ran over the young man, and he didn't survive the injuries. My prayers are with Andrew's family and with Emily, the girl who was at the wheel of the pickup.

The shootings in the Oklahoma mall were in the news today.

A newspaper article I read by chance spoke of home invasion as a phenomenon that needs to be guarded against.

And then my son called again to say that he had confused the due date of a project he'd been preparing for a class, and that he has just until 5:00 tomorrow afternoon to complete it. He sounded so discouraged and frustrated with himself. He works so hard. I could tell that he felt completely overwhelmed.

I found myself struggling against a pretty severe case of fear. I felt that the enemy of my soul was taunting me and saying, "Look at what I can do!!!" How could I have peace for myself or my children in a world gone out of control?

When I sat down to pray it I recognized that the devil is like those terrorist organizations who take credit for a bombing when they weren’t really the ones who did it—they read about it in the news like everyone else and then claim responsibility in order to build fear and to cause people to cower.

It came to me with certainty that God is the author of everything that touches my life. If it happens, He not only knows about it,





This is a hard truth. But behind this truth is the comfort of a God Who is Omnipotent, All-powerful, Almighty, and Awesome! And we know and believe that our God, the One God, is above all else, LOVE.


The Lord reigns (Psalm 97).

The Lord is my strength (Psalm 18).

Today I was reminded that the Lord is in control. Instead of my world feeling dangerous and out-of-kilter, I realized that when the God of the Universe is love personified there really is nothing to fear.