Without a doubt, or at least as my experience to date has revealed, one of the most challenging issues involved in caring for elderly seniors involves the control of bodily functions, and lack thereof. I have yet to converse with other caregivers without this topic being raised, and usually at the outset of the visit. For starters, grown children find it both embarrassing and distressing to have to talk with their parent about his or her personal hygiene. Yes, our parents were responsible for our personal hygiene early in our lives, and we understand the need for us to do the same for our own offspring. In addition, a number of us will take on responsibility for the hygiene of our life partners, or perhaps are already doing so, which I’m told becomes a labour of love. The same may be said when doing so for our children or younger siblings, relatives, or the kids we babysit. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for us here is that now our role is being reversed and we must help the very person who changed our diapers.
In many situations, it is the obvious signs of incontinence that become our call to action to begin the discussions around the elderly person needing help. And in the vast majority of the situations, the elderly parent flatly denies the “accusation”, as they see it. I will never forget approaching this discussion with a variety of examples of pads and pull-ups in hand, only to be told that what I had to say was all very interesting, but simply didn’t apply to the care recipient, when the signs were painfully obvious. And, what were those signs, you might be asking? Well, they were a house that strongly smelled of urine, along with strips of toilet paper (which had been folded into pad-like structures and used in the panties so to catch the drips of urine, and (last but not least) stained underpants, supposedly washed and hanging to dry over the towel rods.
Yes, little do we know, when we enter into the role of family caregivers, that things that seem perfectly obvious to us and therefore require a quick fix, perhaps in the form of a reminder now and then, will end up as ongoing and extremely frustration battlegrounds that leave us utterly exhausted. Oh, and don’t forget about our anger, which we usually try to stuff down because we feel guilty about feeling this emotion. After all, doesn’t the fact that we experience anger toward our care recipient reveal that we are bad caregivers? The answer to this question is a resounding NO.
Stay tuned for future blog posts that will address these matters further, as this is tricky business and deserves more blog space.
Yours in caregiving,