Helping folks with personal care issues

Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: I am lucky enough to have both parents still living and in general good health. They live independently in senior housing. I realize that with age comes a certain amount of "slowing down," however, one thing that seems to be slipping a little for them is general hygiene. Sometimes they just smell a little "off," have greasy hair or stray hairs growing in odd places. My mother has decided that they don't really need to wash their clothes often because they don't get dirty. Well, they do. Their facility does not have care available. How do I bring this up without hurting the feelings of my dear parents?Querying Daughter

DEAR DAUGHTER: Sometimes older people lose some of their sense of smell (medications can cause this), along with other changes in their perceptions.

You can broach this by offering to help with some of the little daily chores and hygiene issues that might have become difficult for them.

Tell your parents: "Sometimes it smells a little stale in here when I come in. How about I do your laundry for you every Saturday? We'll change the sheets together and launder all of your clothes." Go through their closets with them to make sure they have clothes that they like and are easy for them to put on. Make sure their toothbrushes, cups, etc., are easy for them to use (there are great "adaptive" products available).

Also -- please -- offer to help them with their hair, etc. It may be challenging for them to see clearly what is out of place, and it might have become physically difficult to wash thoroughly. In my experience this sort of personal care offers a level of intimacy that might be beautiful for all of you.

If all of this would be too tough for you (or them), hiring a caregiver to come in to assist them a couple of afternoons a week could be the answer.