Joining my friend Penny at Penny’s Passion to talk about Caring for Mom While Maintaining Her Dignity as a part of the Thinking Out Loud Thursday series. I like this series because it provides an opportunity for me to talk about something I might not ordinarily blog about. It is a way for those of us participating to share our thoughts on a subject or subjects that we are thinking about or worrying over. And for today, I am sharing part 2 of my posts about caring for mom…while preserving her dignity. If you missed part 1, take a quick peek, here. It might read a little like a commercial for geriatric products or worse, like I am trying to say, ‘look what we are doing for our mom!’ Neither are its intended purpose.
We are all kind of in this together. Many of you are facing or will soon be facing the challenges that come with caring for an aging parent or loved one. Maybe something we have learned along our way might somehow help someone else on their journey.
Caring for Mom with Dignity
Until this year, I would have said our 92 year-old mom was a medical miracle. Healthy as that proverbial horse. And most medical professionals would have agreed. Mom prides herself in having all of her own teeth. Has only had 2 surgeries in her life…one on each thumb for trigger thumb! During a recent hospital stay, all of the nurses commented on mom’s great skin. And last trip to the ER, the nurse guessed her to be in her 80s! That is the equivalent of someone thinking I am in my 50s!! How that would make my heart sing!
In the past six months, mom has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a faulty heart valve, cellulitis, a fractured T-10 vertebra, extensive blood clots in her left leg, an abdominal abscess and mental health issues – bipolar type 2 and depression. And she continues to have irritable bowel syndrome which causes her the most problem of all.
And the symptoms of mom’s IBS have presented us with several concerns to address.
Accidents and Underwear
For about a year, mom has had the occasional ‘accident’ or near-miss with both urinary and bowel incontinence. Poor dear tried to hand wash her panties but was unable to see to get them clean. We tried to ignore the stained underwear draped about her bathroom but grew concerned that she was wearing what would be deemed dirty by anyone else who didn’t know they had been washed. ER staff, doctors, nurses. We talked to her and so she began asking my brother to buy sanitary pads that she cut in two to save money. Mom would wear them when she was going out where she might not be able to make it to a bathroom on time.
But those little pads are no longer doing the trick and we have had to switch mom to disposable underwear, which has been very disparaging for her. The first brand we all thought of was Depends…great marketing on their part. And Depends were what we bought for mom. We had no idea what size to get because they come in S, M, L and XL rather than the usual women’s underwear sizes of 4, 5, 6, etc. We went with XL but have now bumped down to L.
The Depends do offer good ‘containment’ but are not very attractive. I had seen a magazine ad for Always Discreet Boutique disposable underwear and decided to give them a try. Even at her age, bless her heart, mom mentioned that the Depends were not very pretty and liked the color and bit of decoration on the Always brand. Find coupons and offers, here.
Years ago I read something in a magazine that suggested women should afford themselves pretty underwear. It doesn’t matter that no one else sees it. The most important person does see it…YOU. Buy pretty underwear and wear it as an act of self-love.
Lesson learned: Women of all ages want to feel pretty.
Pads and Panties
With all of the antibiotics our mom has been on lately for UTIs, the abdominal abscess and mysterious infections in her right hand and left leg, mom’s bowel incontinence has been worse at times. Haley, her Senior Helper, suggested we try Poise extra long, maximum absorbency pads to wear inside the disposable underwear. Mom is self-conscious that it might appear she has a rolled Sunday newspaper between her legs but we have assured her it doesn’t look that way. And the pads give her extra confidence to go out without worry. Get coupons and a free sample, here.
Before I retired, I was beginning to have urinary incontinence. A common woe of elementary school teachers (and librarians?) because they cannot simply leave the classroom when they need to use the restroom. Being rather vain and in my early 50s, I wasn’t ready to try disposable underwear. After a little research, I purchased a pair of Icon panties designed for women who tinkle. They are discreet, attractive and pee-proof. Even wrote a blog post about them, here. I don’t wear my Icons often. But when I know it may be difficult for me to get to the bathroom, I put those puppies on.
Lesson learned: A little vanity is good for us.
Mom has a little trouble getting clean sometimes after a bowel movement. Because she goes as much as a half-dozen times a day, the CNAs at the hospital get rather frustrated with having to take her to the bathroom, return when she is finished, clean her and then take her back to bed. During the last hospital stay, I stepped in to help. Mom was uncomfortable having a total stranger have to provide such an intimate level of care. And yet, it was a little awkward for her and for me, when I started taking care of things for her.
Here are a couple of ways I tried to maintain some of mom’s dignity while helping her toilet:
- Staying close but not too close. While mom used the bathroom, I turned my back or stepped right outside the door to give her a little privacy.
- Reassuring her. Mom worried and said several times that she hated for me to have to clean her. She even mentioned how little Lucia no longer has to be cleaned but here she was at 92 having to have me help her. I just reassured her that I loved her and it was no big deal. We all need help sometimes.
- Keeping her covered. Those blessed hospital gowns don’t allow for that much but I did what I could to keep her covered everywhere else while I was wiping her. I talked to her, too, hoping to distract her from what we were doing.
- Encouraging her to try cleaning herself first. Then I could tag-team and go in for a final wipe.
Lesson Learned: We all need help sometime.
Truth be told even I have trouble getting clean some days. Here at home we have switched to using flushable wipes. And I think I have finally convinced mom to do the same. With just a swipe in the general area, a wipe will tend to clean better than dry toilet paper. And cause less irritation. There is some debate as to how flushable they really are, so tossing them in the trash is perhaps a better option in places with older plumbing. But with mom’s history of UTIs, wipes have been a form of preventative medicine, if you will.
And speaking of irritation, with all those bowel movements, there is bound to be some. Flushable hemorrhoid wipes to the rescue. Bonus…these wipes can be used as a vehicle for transporting hemorrhoid ointment onto the right spot. We squeeze a little ointment onto the wipe and mom is able to apply it herself. Bye bye ‘rhoids.
Lesson Learned: We all want to feel independent. But need to know that there’s always someone in the wings.
Mom is no longer able to shower herself. When she is at home, Haley provides mom with bathing assistance twice a week. In the hospital, however, no one bathed her. Boo. So, I did what I could bedside and continued to do these same things between showers when she was home.
- Helping her to wash up with warm, sudsy water. Or even shower wipes…larger sized for use all over the body. Mom usually remained partially clothed and I would turn my back while she was washing up. She always commented how good it felt to wash her face and brush her teeth in the hospital.
- Applying deodorant, lotion, body spray. My daughter Brennyn keeps mom in Bath and Body Works body sprays, shower gels and lotions. Mom loves to put on lotion or have me put it on her in places where she can’t reach, like her back.
- Washing hair. This is impossible as far as I can tell outside the shower. Or so I thought. But apparently, Amazon sells no-rinse shampoo caps that are waterless shampoo and conditioner in a dry shampoo cap. Designed specifically for the elderly. Who knew! Mom does wash her hair every shower, and brushes her hair every day.
- Putting on her face. My mom has never worn much make-up. However, she still likes to wear lipstick. I think it makes her feel pretty and dressed for the day. She has a number of tubes in different shades so choosing the right color is kind of fun for her, too.
Lesson Learned: Little things can make us feel ‘normal’ and ‘well’. We all like to smell good and feel pampered.
When I was a child, my dad would buy my mom beautiful things from very expensive stores. Lovely lace lingerie – slips, panties, bras. Silk scarves. Leather gloves and shoes and purses. Pretty blouses. For some reason, though, mom rarely wore the things he gave her. Sometimes she returned them for something more practical. Other times she tucked them into a drawer to be forgotten. I don’t know the dynamic behind all of that except I don’t think my mom often felt very pretty. And was always quite frugal.
Now days, mom is quite the fashionista! Not sure what changed but something sure did. She loves getting dressed up in the clothes we kids buy for her, as she is unable to go out and shop for herself. Mom enjoys coordinating different outfits and finding just the right piece of costume jewelry with which to accessorize.
It is difficult for her to stand at the closet with her walker and select her clothes, so I usually show her a couple of different tops in opposite colors…maybe a blue one and something red or pink. Then I have her pick the one she wants to wear. I repeat the same thing with her pants and then offer a couple of necklaces for her to choose from. And if she’s really getting dolled up, some earrings. Mom gets many compliments on her clothes which makes her very happy and keeps us happily buying more!
Lesson Learned: We all like to choose what we wear.
Hoping this article isn’t TMI to the max. Well, actually, I already know it is. But hope it is received in the spirit it was written. Not to share too much information, but in hopes of helping someone else who is caring for an aged parent. My brother, sister and I certainly don’t have all the answers but we do know that when we do whatever we do with love, it is also perceived that way by mom. Even those uncomfortable tasks.
When I researched ways to care for the elderly while maintaining their dignity, I didn’t find a whole lot out there. A few scholarly articles and the following brief posts, “Boundaries in Caregiving – Maintaining Dignity” and “9 Ways to Help Promote Dignity in Your Care Home“.
Did you ever have a grandparent or other elderly relative live with you? Maybe as a child, one of your parents’ parents came to stay. What do you remember about that time? We are very blessed that my mom is able to still care for herself to some degree. Although, I keep reminding her I have a first floor bedroom and bath with her name on it!
Hope you will stop by to see what Penny is thinking about today. I am heading there, now, if you want to tag along. Just click here!
Hugs and kisses,