Sunday, December 6, 2009

Shower, Anyone???

One of the first clues to realizing that an aging loved one needs help is when their personal hygiene habits begin to slip. For me, helping Nana with her bath were just a matter of course. I knew what to expect and didn't think twice about it. Now that climbing in to the bathtub for her is about as likely as climbing Mount Everest, we shower.
There are countless ways to help someone shower. It depends entirely on how much help they need and their mobility or lack thereof. The type of shower you have also factors in. While modesty takes a back seat, dignity can still be maintained by way of gentle assistance with anything that becomes necessary.
I'm amazed at the many options to the regular bathtubs that once were all that were available. They look and sound wonderful in the commercials and are likely a great help to those living alone. If they can afford it.
It wasn't luck, but pre-planning that gave us the heavenly extra large two person shower with built in bench that we have at our house. There's a small curb the 'showeree' must step over, that keeps the water from flowing into the bathroom, but it's a pretty good set up all in all. Clearly, it is the responsibility of the 'showerer' to ensure the safety and well-being of the 'showeree'. Then like the water raining down on you from the shower head, you just go with the flow.
Nana is too unstable on her feet to venture into the shower unescorted. What to do: step into the shower with her, both of us sporting fashionable plastic shower caps. (We'll talk about hair care another time.) Once we're in there, she needs prompting to remember what we're doing in there in the first place. Soaping up her washcloth and handing it to her is a pretty good cue. Anything she can't reach, her back, her feet, the backs of her knees, I'll do. Then I'll remind her that she doesn't have to bend backwards as far as possible to reach the stream of water. A gentle tug on her elbow urging her take a step back will do the trick, and once we've rinsed off the soap, she's ready to get dry.
Again, our 'seniors bathroom' is big enough to accommodate a cute padded vanity bench against one wall. That's where my 'showerees' can sit to dry themselves off, a towel underneath them to soak up any wayward drips. No bench in your bathroom: the toilet with the lid down will do just fine.
Grampa George's showers are a little simpler, but something as benign as turning on the water and getting it to the right temperature are still a challenge. In his case, prompting him to actually take a shower is a critical factor, one he'd overlook for months otherwise. Along with that, bringing a change of clothes into the bathroom to put on after showering is high on the priority list. Lower down on the list but no less important is ensuring he hasn't left his hearing aids in as they are definitely not waterproof.
Once he's dried off and dressed, it's a simple matter of taking care of the little things that would otherwise go ignored. I hand him a cotton swab to dry out his ears before he re-inserts his hearing aids and turns them on. I towel off his hair, put in a little gel and comb it just the way he likes it. I trim his moustache and his fingernails, and hand him his watch to strap on. He likes to carry a fresh handkerchief in his pocket, so I offer him one of those. And before I help him on with his socks and slippers, I moisturize his feet, because his tend to swell up, causing the skin to break open if it isn't tended to.
At our house, showers are just part of the routine. Too much to handle helping your Mom or Dad with their personal hygiene? Get help for them. Ignoring this huge part of their well being won't do. And just like with anything else, it's the little things that make the difference.

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