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

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 Answer

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.