My wife and I have been caring for my 88 year old father for...

7 answers | Last updated: Dec 04, 2010
Tired asked...

My wife and I have been caring for my 88 year old father for 5 years. He has stopped brushing his teeth, shaving combing, showering, taking meds you name it. We have put up signs/notes to remind him. He has torn them down. He admits does not like to be reminded of things he should be doing. He also says he sees them but chooses to ignore them. If we don't tell him to, he won't do any of these things. We are bothe very 'tired' of the whole thing. Is this normal?

Expert Answers

Maria Basso Lipani writes a popular website on geriatric care topics, where she puts her expertise as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to good use answering care planning questions. Maria is a graduate of Columbia University School of Social Work and is licensed in California and New York.

The short answer to your question is that this is not normal. And not because all people bathe and shave and brush their teeth every single day, but because you insinuated that your father once did these things regularly and now he doesn’t. A decline in functioning is always a cause for concern in my book.

I’m assuming that you and your wife began posting reminders because you thought that he might be forgetting these tasks or, activities of daily living (ADLs), as they’re sometimes called. You could be onto something there and I wonder if you might have noticed other behaviors that suggest a cognitive decline. Some examples include a pattern of forgetting appointments, having difficulty with writing checks, or getting lost in familiar places. If so, the next step would be to call your dad’s doctor to share your observations so that his memory can be evaluated at his next visit.

If you can’t pinpoint any other noticeable changes in his behavior, what you’ve already described is enough to have the doctor evaluate him for depression. Many people lose interest in taking care of themselves when they are depressed and depression is common in the elderly for a variety of reasons. Also let the doctor know that your dad is not taking his medications; this is important because stopping certain medications abruptly can be life-threatening.

Outside of seeking a physician’s assistance, it might help if you or your wife simply talk with him about the changes you’ve seen and ask what you can do to help. The goal here is not to find a solution so much as it is to convey that you’re on the same team and to gather more information about what, if anything, might have triggered this change. Lastly, seek support from other caregivers or from a professional if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed. Five years is a long time to care for a parent; having people with whom to share your experiences might also help you to learn what has worked for others in similar circumstances.

Community Answers

Maxwell's senior car answered...

The Alzheimer's Association have some wonderful booklets that address personal care and these have been very helpful to others I have worked with.  They also have one called Communication and another called Behaviors

For reliable information and support contact them at 1-800-272-3900 or go to

Patricia Player Maxwell Geriatric Care Manager

Frena answered...

and i certainly wouldn't be assuming anything about Alzheimer's either, since nothing listed pertains particularly to dementia.

i think those of us who aren't 88 and failing really don't always understand how very wearying it can be to be in that state. i'd suggest a checkup, not necessarily to put him on depression meds (which can actually be injurious to a failing elder), but to enquire into his general state of health and review his present medications. it is a sad fact that many of the routine meds which elders take actually bring about energy loss, health decline and toxicity. so expert review is very important.

why not have an aide to come in to help with bathing and hygiene. they're expert, cheerful and unjudgmental -- which is not always true of family members.

i understand how wearying it is for caregivers (i am one), but this sounds like a situation where communication isn't going well. notes and orders on the wall could well be very depressing in itself, because they contain reproach and judgment about a situation in which this elder is clearly already not managing.

it may be that this gentleman would do much better and be much happier in a friendly small care home. sometimes sharing care with others can enable everyone to do better.

Jesus saves! answered...

As a Nurse for over 35 Years, I am concerned for everyone involved here.

I DO NOT agree with anyone that would sugguest puting this Gentleman (or anyone else for that matter) in 'a home'.

I have owned a Private Home Care Business for many years, and not everyone needs to be in a facility.

I would suggest the Family get lots of good R & R. Go on some trips, and enjoy life, while they can.

I would suggest that a Professional Caregiver be brought in, and given time, bonding may occur. This person can/will gently help the patient to try to return to some assemblence of 'normal'. A Creative person will think of fun things to do.

The Caregiver can help in as many areas as necessary. Often times, a person other than the Family can do wonders. I have found in my own practice, patients will do MUCH more for me, that their loved ones. These family members are usually shocked at what is being accomplished!

I really wish I could personally help you, and I hope for you the best!

Here's a HUG!

Frena answered...

frankly, i can't make sense of JesusSaves saying no one should ever go into a home when she was in the home care business?!

i think good small homes can be a terrific helper in situations where people are unhappy with each other, exhausted, not communicating well together and not finding care solutions in the family.

this idea that every family can give their own elders the best care is, alas, not at all borne out in reality. it would be nice -- but it doesn't always work out that well.

elders are often relieved to be away from the "family care" situations, so why anyone who had actually had such a home would be so against it -- well, that's just weird.

if nothing else, it could provide this questioner with a respite, which is also a valuable function of nice small care homes. of which there are many in this country, thank goodness.

i have worked with families and in care homes with elders with dementia and i can guarantee that family care is not always the ideal. neither is a care home always ideal. either way takes work to get it right.

but love of elders come from many resources, and alas, i'm sorry to say. not always in their own family. so let's be sensible here, may we?

and as people trying to help in our suggestions, let's not get all dogmatic when it isn't useful or even accurate.

Jesus saves! answered...

BACK @ frena......I SAID ...'not everyone' needs to be in a facility.(sadly indicating some do). Don't forget, I have a valid opinion.

And in MY CASES.....Families HAVE tried to give the best care. No one else knows that Patient like his/her family. Not a Social Worker, not me, not you.

I have lived with patients...Elderly singles and couples. People will work out what they want to work out. I can be that 'Bridge', for them, and have often been.

I have NEVER had a patient, OR seen a Patient HAPPY to go into a Facility. It just dosen't happen. I have been a Charge Nurse/Supervisor in these Facilities, so I know what I am talking about.

You evidently didn't really read my letter, as I advocated R & R (Rest and Relaxation). Very important for everyone.

You need to read more about Dementia, and you will find that it IS better if possible, to leave the Patient in familiar surroundings.
This has been proven.

And what may I ask is..."get it right?". Right?? We health care professionals do not hope for 'right'. We strive to give the BEST, most compassionate service we can give.

I would suggest, frena, you find COMPASSION just may need it.

I have held a Bussiness for over 30 Years. Most of my Patients come to me by Referral, and that is saying something.

And in closing...I have to be 'accurate', you apparently have your own opinion.

I really don't think you can walk in my shoes, 35 Years in Nursing as of this year. As a former Hospice Nurse, one learns alot about compassion and helping Families work through problems/concerns.

Mariannew answered...

Have your father checked out by a physician who specializes in geriatric care/internal medicine with older patients.
You have several options. Then have him evaluated by a home health agency for in-home services. He may already qualify for home health. Investigate hospice services if the physician thinks this is appropriate. Hire a sitter and visit several nursing homes that are near where you live. Your decision may not be a perfect one, but focus on what is best for him, the family, and what financial resources are available to use for his care.

When you ask if this is normal, do you mean that being tired to death and worn out is normal? Yes it is, but you can take steps to get some relief.