francy Dickinson www.seniorcarewithspirit.com
Dear Francy: My mother has asked me to buy her pepto, lip balm and other over the counter stuff on repeated occasions. What’s up, I can never find them when I go over to her place, is this early dementia?
Well before we have your mother diagnosed by a blonde, like me. I think we should start with something I can tell you- if she’s forgetting and losing things, then you schedule her for a memory test at her doctor’s office. Some primary physicians do it but most ask you to go to the neurologist. This is a good thing to do – they do the memory test and a year later they repeat it. That way the doctor has a base line and can see if her mind is changing in any alarming way.
How about something you and I can do to help her out right away? Ah, organize! I know you’re saying that your own home is not organized so why should you help your mom on this subject. Well, it’s always easier to clean in someone’s home. Less distraction. Here are the steps to get the bathroom and the table by her TV chair in order:
- Start with taking a large black trash bag in the room and open all the drawers and dump. There will be old hair brushes and rollers, and creams that have gone green with age. There will be hairpins and old make up and it will just go on and on. So, throw as much of the old stuff as you can. Anything that you have a question on, put it aside.
- Add a 7-10 size magified mirror that sticks on her bathroom mirror, so she can actually see without glasses. That way she can put on and take off makeup and do her facial hair work.
- Clean out the drawers with some soapy water and line them. You know, you buy the Rubbermaid liner that’s a plastic sheet in a roll and will be easy to clean and freshen up old drawers. Then you’ll get a few of the plastic trays for drawers-just like you use with silverware, only single size. Those are for her toothpaste and brush so they stay clean-sort of thing.
- Take a moment to re-think the drawers. You want to have a drawer for teeth cleaning and small first aid in one of the top drawer areas. You put in the tray liner and buy a new toothbrush ( I personally live for the Sonicare it’s so terrific) if she needs it. Then you put in this drawer the things she would reach for everyday. Maybe a new moisturizer (by the way get one with SPF she may not know how important that is these days) Then the neosporin, the anti-itch cortisone cream, any other cream she uses on a daily basis and her underarm deodorizer. You can slip in a few other things like a small band aid box and one of the newer liquid band aids and tell her how to use it. This means that she opens this drawer for her basics, teeth, deodorant, moisturizer and small cut and itch repair stuff. Her morning routine in one drawer, or in one small basket if she does not have a drawer.
- On the other side of the bathroom sink – that top drawer is for her hair and her make up. Once again, use those individual trays. Three or four trays will hold her tweezers and small scissors, eye color, under eye concealer, mascara, blush and mineral makeup. The mineral makeup is new to older folks, so introduce her, it will not stick in her lines and help her look young and pretty everyday. Her lipsticks go in another tray and remember, only keep a couple -they turn bad- as does moisturizer and mascara. So if she’s not using a lot of makeup these days – do a replacement with new. In another tray is her comb and hair brush and a tube of hair gel. Show her how to just shampoo, moisturizer, towel dry and comb through her hair and then use the gel and run it through her hands into her hair for it to look tosseled, if she’s in a hurry. Lots of older gals get into not doing anything with their hair and this way she looks good everyday.
- Under the sink gets cleaned out next and everything goes. This is where you put the toilet paper stash, the basket with cleaning goods for the shower & those cleaning wipes with bleach. A small plastic tub for her throw away shavers, back up shampoo and her bar soaps that she can easily grab. The same type of tub for her “over the counter” med stuff. (Her prescription drugs should be on a high shelf in the kitchen away from moisture, not in the bathroom)
- Load up the plastic tub with the over the counter drugs: Get rid of all outdated stuff…just throw it. Buy new items and I know it sounds expensive but once you get this down it will be all in order for her. You should have Pepto, or generic, tussin cough syrup, Imodium pills for diarrhea, stool softeners for constipation, a cold pill that she can take with her meds, Vick’s, larger band aids,a new easy to read thermometer, alka seltzer & cough drops. Everything ready to use if she is unwell- or needs something in the middle of the night – she just grabs the basket.
- The rest of the shelves in the bathroom, if she has them, like a linen closet, should be cleaned out. Old towels are gifted to charity and old shampoo or other products or fancy gifts that were given to her for the last ten years – that no longer are used – go in the trash. The shelves should be empty…they only hold a couple of new towel sets that are new and feel fresh and fun to use. They hold a basket of wash clothes for her to use on her face. The toilet paper can go here and her cleaning products from under the sink if she has this extra space. The other basket that works well here is the one for her hands with moisturizers and her nail polish, cotton balls and remover. So If she does her nails she just takes the basket down and takes it with her. But all the old junk..the old curlers and curling irons, bottles of fragrance, bubble bath and blow dryers that she never uses – they go out the door. You want the area to be clean and easy for her to see what she has and what she needs.
BY THE TV BASKET:
- This is a must for all seniors. You have this for their chair side-table at home or in a care center. If its a care center it’s a smaller basket, but the at home, needs to be on top of the table.
- In this basket you put a small magnifying glass, emery boards, a pen & letter opener, small paper scissors, a small glass-cleaner spray bottle, tums, lip balm, small hand cleaner, small hand moisturizer, tiny Swiss knife, Q Tips and a small pocket mirror. The basket has to be easy to grab and look through or a box with a top if she likes things tucked away.
- The point of this is to think of things she has to get up and go and get all day. Then she has to remember to put them away and they find their way down her seat cushions and on the floor before that happens, so this way, she stays organized and still has her things right at her finger tips. I like to put a klenex box and salt and pepper by the chair too…so if she has carried her food in the living area, they can have the seasonings close at hand. My mother always wanted a small glass container with a lid to keep little sweet treats in and she kept a nice tile to protect her coffee or tea cup when it was at rest, on the table.
- I also love the over the chair arm and the slide in the mattress caddies. They work so well for the remote controls and the magazines and such and they make everything close.
Why all this fuss and work on your part? The easier it is for your mom to not walk around and get up all the time, the less falls you worry about. The cleaner the area the less visual clutter the mind has to sort through and can help anyone with light memory challenges. The easier her bathroom is to find things and know that it’s at an arms reach, means she does not tuck this here and there and then forget where? If she is having memory trouble just label the drawers for her in the bathroom.
Remember the majority of illness happens in the bathroom. If seniors feel sick to their stomachs or have problems with their bowels – in they go to the bathroom. To have it tidy and clean and easy to use, means it could help them in an emergency.
If her bathroom is really looking sad, you can perk it up with a new light fixture that uses the new low volt lights. Very easy for anyone to trade off light fixtures, just remember to turn off the light at the switch before you meddle with them. You can get a new faucet so the old one does not leak. You can bleach out the counter tops and make them bright and then shine them with a car wax. You can paint the room with one gallon of paint. And you can remove and replace the caulking around tubs and sinks with an easy to use acrylic caulk for tub and tile. The place will look fresh and fun for her to use again.
The Bathtub: You can have the old bathtub redone with a service that refurbishes porcelain and it makes her tub all new and pretty. You can add a great bathtub hand rail or special bath chair. The handheld shower is a very easy addition to any tub and you will only need Teflon tape and the hand held shower kit. The shower curtain should be see through so she has plenty of light when she’s in the tub. The toilet area should have a handle to help her up if she’s unwell.
As we all age, the bathroom is used more and more, so it needs to be easy to use and not have floor rugs that slip. If you want to get a new floor mat that sits in front of the sink that does not slip and is made of latex, great, otherwise rugs come out of the bathroom. Almost all bathrooms that have vinyl can be easily upgraded with the new 14″ vinyl tiles that stick on and look so great with grout lines printed right into the tile pattern. They are inexpensive and take off 10-20 years of age in the bathroom. (wish I could have something that took off years!)
Your mom will feel updated, upgraded and have less stress to remember where she put her lip balm, if you take a little time on this. Remember, people live in homes for years and years and the bathroom just gets more stuff in it, rarely does it get a good clean-out. So this is just the ticket for you both!
I did this with my mother and other seniors in care and they responded with so much excitement. I redid mom’s bathroom after my father passed – in a more feminine color with fancier towels. It really did make an emotional change for her. Please do go to my website www.seniorcarewithspirit.com and get other tips on care giving and read the rest of my blogs on Alzheimer’s and dementia if you are worried about your mother’s memory.