How can we get Grandpa to have more sanitary habits?

15 answers | Last updated: Nov 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My fiance and I moved into my grandparents to take care of my grandmother who has severe Alzheimer's. We moved in almost two years ago. She is sometimes a challenge as she requires total care including bathing dressing and feeding. She is not our biggest problem, though. My grandpa is, he takes care of himself and feeds Grandma most of the time. The problem is his attitude. He is very negative wants to die, doesn't wash his hands, touches everything and most of all he acts like he is the one doing us a favor. It is getting harder and harder to live in this situation. He has accidents with his bowels and doesn't clean himself very good. Even after a shower he still smells. I feel guilty most of the time because I clean everything and he thinks I have a cleaning fetish, but I can't even cook without washing the dishes before we eat because he touches them with his dirty hands. We have tried to talk to him about his habits but he becomes irate as soon as we open our mouths. I am at wits end. I want to leave but I feel guilty about that too. I love my grandparents very much (they raised me from the time I was five years old.) I just dont know how to deal with the situation anymore. I promised to take care of them but I feel like if I dont get out I'll go crazy.


Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

This sounds like a really tough situation.  First, I want to say that taking care of one older person is difficult enough, but taking care of two- that can be too much.  You sound stressed, and this situation is not going well even though you are trying your best.

Your grandfather sounds difficult, as he has something going on.  His negative attitude and issues with cleaning himself show that he may be depressed and/ or have memory problems himself.  I would try to get him to the doctor's to see if they have something to recommend for him. 

But, again, your living situation is not working out.  What are your options?  My thoughts include:

  1. Keep living with them, and see what happens.
  2. Keep living with them, but hire someone to help out with your grandparents, especially with bathing your grandmother.
  3. Help them move to an assisted living facility.  They would get their own apartment, but someone is there to help them when it is needed.
  4. Nursing home.

So, you really need to come up with a solution soon, as you need to take care of yourself FIRST.  This is not selfish- it is reality.  You cannot care for two older adults if you are too burned out to do it.  You have done your all, but caretaking is a 24 hour 7 day a week job.  It is just too much!

I think you should consider the assisted living facility.  This way, your grandparents have independence and their own space, but they can get the help they BOTH need.  You should also contact your local Center on Aging and see what they can do to help.  Sometimes, they will have programs available to help assist you and your grandparents with their care needs.  Good luck!


Community Answers

Jaye answered...

It might also be helpful to get some in home respite care for your Grandparents.  That would give you some time to  get away and do something for yourself.  Getting some help from a homecare agency could be very helpful to you.... take care I do wish you the best. 


Papasgirl answered...

These answers are great.  You do need help.  If you do decide to stay with your grandparents  remember to set dates to spend alone with your fiance!  The stress could damage your relationship with him and you don't want that.  If he resents the living arrangement you may have to consider assisted living for your grandparents.

I have the same problem with my father about cleanliness.  I had to get some counceling to help me deal with it.  My father thinks nothing of handling his dogs or using the bathroom without washing his hands before handling other things.  He doesn't shower or brush his teeth as often as he should.  He was raised in a much simpler time on a farm and it seems the older he gets the more he reverts to that simpler time and the efforts like showering become such a painful chore for him so he just avoids it.  He is not belligerent and luckily if I suggest a shower he will do it.  I have learned to just love my dad and wash the dishes before I use them.

It sounds like, if you choose to stay, you do need to get some help with your grandparents daily needs.  Some times we are too close to the family member we are caring for and some things like bathing are more easily accepted from a hired professional.  That would also give you a couple of hours to yourself while they are there. 

Good luck to you.  My thoughts and prayers are with you.


Axsmithprobate answered...

 I agree that both of your grandparents are incapacitated.  You can't take care of both of them yourself.  Get a home health aide for your grandfather.  There's something about a stranger with none of the emotional history that can get someone to eat, bathe, etc. where a family member can't.

Do you have a Power of Attorney?  That would be greatly helpful as well.  Often, people will resist giving up control and allowing other family members to make decisions for them.  It sounds like your grandfather might be like that.  Especially in a assisted living facility.  There are facilities that allow someone to move in temporarily.  Once in a helpful environment, people start to really like it.  It's just getting them there that can be difficult.

Christine Axsmith, Esq.

www.Axsmith.net


Mommy828599 answered...

Thanks, These are some really good answers. We do have a service that comes in one weekend a month and my aunt comes over 2 times a week for 3 hours each so we do get out. I also have POA for both of them but grandpa still has full control until he becomes incapacited. and he tells everyone else what a great job we do taking care of everything, but to us he never has anything nice to say, I know there is alot of anomosity because of the whole hand washing thing.He is 90 yrs old and either doesnt care about our feelings or just doesnt realize how he behaves. For instance he has referred to me as his "maid" which really hurt. and actually that is how I feel not like a child that they loved and raised but as a hired hand.


B. ays answered...

First off, and this comment will be tough to take I’m sure: think, really think what it must be like to be your grandfather; and if that’s too hard to get much clarity around, think about how you would feel to be 90 and watching your beloved of so many years fade right before your eyes as you yourself have more and more difficulty with your own body and life. Maybe you and your fiancé could talk about what it might be like for you to start losing each other and there being nothing you can do to stop it? My mother always said, “Until you walk in another's shoes, you cannot possibly know what their life is like.”

OK… having said all that, I am flat out in awe of you and what you and your fiancé are doing! I would suggest that your grandfather is very aware and very appreciative of what you are doing. If you gave yourself much time to think about my first comment, you probably have some idea that your grandfather appreciates what you are doing and how difficult it might be for him to express it. I am a long ways from being 90 and help from others is difficult for me to take in and appreciate.

Lastly, you need help. No ifs, ands, or buts. Only a fool thinks they can do it all. And we are all fools. Nothing to feel badly about. Nothing to feel guilty about. You are not failing anyone when you ask for help. You are bettering the lives of everyone involved. You cannot give what you do not have. The more and varied help you can get the better. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that if you do not take care of yourself, it could cost you more than you are willing to pay. Be kind and loving to yourselves.

Take good care.
 


Betsiv answered...

i can understand your frustration, my father is 93 and i often wonder about whether or not his hands are clean. he can still bath & dress himself, fix his own breakfast & lunch, so he's doing pretty good. for some reason personal hygiene is the first 'self care' trait that goes to the wayside.

i'm not a nurse or anything like that but i have had my fair exposure..one of the things i have learned is that people (patients) will pay more attention to a stranger, a professional stranger than they will a family member or friend. so, if you can arrange for someone from a local home health care agency to come to your home and talk with your grandfather, he just might listen :-). have the talk be very inclusive; personal hygiene, how to bath, how to dry off, how to brush his teeth, how get off the bed w/o falling, get out of the bath/shower w/o falling, etc... that way it is not focusing on just 'one' item. and if necessary have a LPN or CNA come to the house every day and check with granda pa to make sure he is 'clean'. once they make a repore with each other, he won't resent it.


A fellow caregiver answered...

i know how painful it is to see your love one slip from you,i too took care of my grandmother for 5 yrs and for all my life she was our rock and dearly loved by our family..but when the alzhemiers started to take her she became so different and difficult,but we tried so hard to remember that this was not her and she would be sad to know how she had become,so we just tried really hard to keep that in mind,even when it was exhausting and testing,and not to say we didnt get short with her,which saddens me to this day,but i hope she knew we always love and cherished her all our lives.we lost her in 2003 and not a day goes by that she's not there in my heart and i know one day i will see her again,and know she will forgive the times we got fustrated with her..after all we are human i wish you all the best.i was lucky to have my sister to help out what one had a problem handling the other seemed to step in and visa versa,so in that way we did get relief at times,so bless your heart because so many of our elderly are just discarded and forgotten


Dawna1968 answered...

i take care of my grandma she is 87 and in stage 6 of Alzheimers. her daily hygiene is not the greatest and when i tell her that she should wash i get an earful. i'm rude. i smell. if i dont like the was she smells, i should leave. those are some of the nicer ones. after two days of little sleep i couldnt take much more. i got my cell phone and wrote a text message. it said PACK A BAG. I NEED HELP. i sent it to everyone. the oddest person replied. my ex. he replied, NO PROBLEM. BE THERE AT 9. he comes two or three days a week and sets with her while i shop, get my hair done, i have even gone to his house and just read a book. i'm more relaxed and she can tell. and when he reminds her wash up she just giggles and says i know. but she does it. since that text message i have more help. i leave the dirty jobs(bathing) to a great nurse that comes twice a week. i dont know if she was to embarrassed to have me wash her but she lets the nurse. she calls it spa day. i learned that i cant do it all by myself and more importantly i dont have to.


Granm4u4 answered...

Help is so important. It is strange sometimes who responds to our plea and how it works out. I took care of my mother for 10+ years without assistance until the last few years. It became far more difficult as the dementia progressed. Hygiene does seem to become an issue. Sounds like all the replys agree to keep calm and remind often, wash your hands. Even my mother in law had issues and she did not have dementia. She lived to be 88 and full of life - forgetful - but we enjoyed many good times together. One thing I tried was that foaming hand soap. Different favorite fragrances and colors made it easier to remind her.
Get help, stay grounded and try to enjoy the best times together. And wash, wash, wash. The outside home health aide is good too. Sometimes it is easier for them to accept help from a non incolved person☺


A fellow caregiver answered...

I commend you and your fiance moving in with love and care. My husband told me, "once my parents are gone, they are gone" so let's move and care for them. My father has since passed on. We always thought he was the healthy one of the two. My mother is a handful. We have saved her life several times now because we all live together. However-even though it was my husband's idea for us to care for my parents it still took a toll on our relationship. We now have my adult son who cares for my mother full time during the week and my husband and I assist nights and weekends when we are home from work. What we have learned is to remember that these are precious times no matter what the challenges. We also learned that it takes a village to raise a child so bring in more help and keep bringing in more help. The more assistance you have, the easier it is to continue to love and give joy to these grandparents who gave you so much. It is all too easy for those folks who believe they are caring by paying for a nursing home of strangers... no one cares as much as you do...no one will give the love that you do. We bring in my brother, my sister in law and other nurse aides as needed so we can get our breaks and vacations. Find your way, keep talking to find the added good helpers.


Tea mcalpin answered...

The ability to smell is the first of the five sensory systems to go as we age. Figure in the ability to accomodate our own much faster than others, you have a stinky problem on your hands! Also medications commonly used for our older folks reduce the ability to smell. I found this out with my husband, a stroke patient. I don't take bad smells lightly, but he could produce some eye watering, gag inducing smells that could run you out. His hand washing was terrible too. Since actually washing his hands produced a fight, we went to using hand sanitizer in the tubes. He made a great show of showing me he was using it. Not actual hand washing, but sometimes you get real happy with small progresses. I also discovered that men will wash grease off in a heartbeat (our new name for poop). This worked with two other patients too. when I saw poop, I called it grease and had a small "get that nasty stuff off your hands" look, which actually amused them. A bottle of JoJo by the sink and I can get them to wash all the way to the elbows! Pick your battles and use excellent plans to execute!


A fellow caregiver answered...

I too am exactly where you are w/ your Grandpa, except it is my 84 yr.old mom. she has the worst sanitary habits, and won't take her meds etc. I have told her Dr. amny times over. She goes and sees him and lies her way through the appt. and makes me look like an idiot. I would strongly suggest getting some services for both of them, and giving yourself some freedom. It is sooooo hard being a f/t care giver, when all you want to do it love them. In my case the Dr. did not believe a word I said about my Mom, but cont. to call and keep a paper trail together , so maybe one day he will see that I cared enough about her to call and get something done.


A fellow caregiver answered...

I am the oldest of five children, but have had the main responsibilty for my mom. She was diagnosed with Parkinson's Dementia/Alz'dementia (lewy body) if anyone knows about that one. I, too, had promised my "mama" (as we say in the south) that she would never be a nursing home. However, I did not know that someday I would have many different spinal diseases, degenerative disc disease; 6 bone fusions in my neck; fibromyalgia; too many other conditions to mention.

My brother (#2 in the family) and I tried our best for Mama not to be in a nursing home, but he has degenerative disc disease and other conds. For 5 yrs. (in great physical pain to ea. of us) we took turns taking Mama back and forth to each other's homes; l hr. away. Before long during that time, we both were in such severe pain that we met halfway. With my many med. issues, meeting halfway caused so much pain that I need to lie down for as much as five or six hrs.upon return to my home with our mom. She had difficuly then and more now understaning why her children needed to lie down flat so often when she is 20 yrs, and 2lyrs. older than the 2 of us. She is 82; my brother and I are almost 62 and 60. Our mom is in great physical health.

Condensing long history: No matter how much pain we were willing to endure because we loved her so much, and still do; we could not do and provide all the many types of help she needed. Her internal medicine dr. finally said, "I am taking away this responsibility from you; your mom MUST HAVE 24 HR. A DAY CARE.' MAMA REBELLED IMMENSELY, BUT AFTER A FEW MONTHS, I STARTED SEEING MY MOTHER SMILE AND ACTUALLY LAUGH, EVEN GIGGLES SOMETIMES. MY DAUGHTER COVINCED HER TO PARTICIPATE IN THE ACTIVITIES. SHE IS HUGGED MORE TIMES A DAY THAN I CAN REPORT. SHE GIVES MORE HUGS THAN I CAN REPORT. i MUST CONFESS THAT AT THE END OF THE DAY WHEN TIME IS OPEN, SHE CALLS AND TELLS ME SHE WANTS TO GO BACK TO REAL HOME. SHE ADMITS THE PEOPLE ARE GOOD TO HER, THOUGH. THEY CALL HER mAMA, mAW-MAW; GRANDMA. sHE HAS BEEN THERE 6 YRS. dEC. '10. sHE HAS LOST MOST CONCEPT OF TIME. EACH NEW JAN. AND FEB. SHE ALWAYS THINKS SHE ARRIVED THE PRIOR NOV.

yOUNG mAN, i HAVE NEVER "BLOGGED", BUT I SEE SO MUCH OF MYSELF AND MY BROTHER IN YOU. yOU LOVE YOUR GRANDPARENTS WITH A HEART OF GOLD, BUT THIS IS BEYOND YOU ABILITIES. MY MOTHER REFUSED TO LET ANYONE COME IN TO HELP. SHE ONLY WANTED ONE OF HER DAUGHTER'S TO HELP WITH HER BATHING, SHAMPOOING HAIR, ETC. i AM PRAYING FOR YOU AND YOUR GRANDPARENTS AND YOUR FIANCE.


Jean's daughter answered...

Oh, dementia is a funky thing! In more ways than one! My mom who is 83 was always fastidious about personal cleanliness. now, when She opens the front door and she is wearing filthy clothing i just sigh and suggest a "wash day" for all of her clothing. It IS hard! DON'T try and go it alone. Ask for help from siblings, professionals, church members. Everyone loves my mom and is willing to lend a hand. You just need to ask. Some people are more comfortable with driving her to a church luncheon and some people will just sit with her for and hour or two while I go grocery shopping. I am grateful for them all. Don't be afraid to ASK FOR HELP. Many people love my mom and our family but just don't know what to do for this wonderful woman. Ask and ye shall receive. Blessings to all who are struggling.