My Blog

November 26, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Old Habits

It’s a certainty. Old habits don’t die, dementia or no.

I lift Mom’s arm to put her bathrobe on. Her other arms comes up automatically to slip into the other sleeve. Same with underpants, or shoes. Same with food. She knows how and the habit is there, her reactions just don’t always work the way her mind remembers.

Same thing with needing to use the bedside commode in the middle of the night. Since I am the night shift, we get to use that habit often. All of us elderly ladies, myself included, need to visit the bathroom several times a night. So, when I go, I get her up to go, too. I figure our bladders must be about the same size. They aren’t. I think hers must be the size of a pea.

I think I’ve mentioned before the problem with trying to put Mom in pants. Yes, there were (was?) protective underwear underneath. But Mom’s ingrained habit of getting to the bathroom to avoid an “accident” was her undoing. She is no longer strong enough or agile enough to pull down the pants as she struggles to make it to the bathroom in time. After one incident, when she was left on her own, she was covered, waist to ankles, in embarrassing, smelly, well, you know. And nothing mortifies her more.

While she was at #CarriageInn, I would arrive to find evidence of attempted clean-up after an “accident.” She even managed to get into a storage closet where she hid her dirty diaper amid the dry goods for the kitchen. Ouch! The cost of getting that cleaned up was not cheap.

When she got here to the trailer, she had evidently had a problem with her long nightgown. Again, evidence of an “oops”. I found vestiges of wiping up around the toilet. Somehow she had rinsed out her nightgown and hung it from a SEVEN-foot ceiling hook over the spa-sized bathtub. I truly don’t know how she did it.

So, to Depend or not to Depend? Like Xerox, Clorox, Scotch Tape and other name brands, the name we’ve adopted for pull-ups is actually a brand. But it’s a convenient name so we’ll just use it.

Today, pull-ups for grown-ups (men and women) are a major commodity in the stores. But they are bulky and take up a whole lot of space in the stores. I’m certain the store owners are cursing as they try to find room, shoving other items aside, to fit in these shelf-hogging items. As the brands proliferate and advertising pressures us to use pull-ups, it’s up to us to choose.

Don’t ask me. I just use whatever Hospice gives us. So how to avoid problems with potty accidents?

Step 1 – switch to hip-length pajama tops without the bottoms. No long pants. No long nightgowns.

Okay. Good call. She did say she didn’t want her bare legs uncovered, so we put on the bathrobe.

Step 2 – use pull-ups so Mom won’t have to get out of bed.

Nope. Wrong. Major mistake. The habit of getting up to go to the restroom, or in this case, the bedside commode, is completely ingrained. Even with Mom’s bad foot, she will kick her way out from under the covers, haul herself laboriously to her feet, and struggle from bed to commode. Problem: She couldn’t pull down the Depends. Or she forgot she had them on. Had to change the Depends five times.

Step 2-a – Don’t use pull-ups. Count on this sound-asleep night-shift-caregiver to hear Mom when she starts thrashing and tries to get up. Expect to leap up to help her onto the commode.

Nope. Wrong. Worse mistake. Lousy caregiver sleeps through several attempts. Find the sheets wet where Mom was struggling to get out of bed. Had to change the sheets. Finally gave up on changing the sheets, too. Just covered the wet spots with those bed pads and put Mom back to bed. Changed the sheets in the morning.

Step 3 – Another trained caregiver suggested tying Mom into bed with canvas straps. Prevents her getting up and possibly falling as she tries to get onto the commode. All sorts of horrible suggestions about broken hips which lead to decline and death.

Nope. Definitely not happening. Mom panics at being tied down and that would be awful.

Step 4 – Give up and accept reality. Fortunately, the Lousy caregiver herself has to get up every two or three hours to go to the bathroom, too. Since the commode and toilet are nearly side-by-side, Mom and the caregiver can both ‘go potty’ together every two hours. No pull-ups. No sheet changing. Don’t they say the elderly revert to being infants?

The joys of habits.

Elderly Mothers , , , ,
About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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