When we are small, bathtime is a big deal.
As we get older, it’s just part of our day. We think little of it.
When you get older and begin needing help, bathtime becomes a big deal again.
Helping Grandma with her shower used to be super stressful for me.
First of all, it was just awkward.
When you were a little kid, I’m willing to bet you caught a few glimpses of your folks in the nude or on the toilet. If you’re like me, you probably spent a long time trying to block those images out of your mind. That’s because, as a society, we’ve been taught that the human body in all its nekked splendor is undesirable and unnatural.
Small hang-ups like this sometimes become huge roadblocks. These are the types of internal struggles that caregivers have to contend with.
Imagine. If I, Rachel – self-proclaimed professional caregiver – was feeling this level of discomfort, how was my grandma feeling?
Ashamed. Helpless. Humiliated.
Even getting to the bath was a struggle.
I say it all the time. Grandma is a product of Depression-Era thinking. My grandma grew up in a time where bathtime only happened once a week. To her, especially in her state of cognitive decline, it doesn’t make sense to bathe more often than that.
At first, I was set on getting Grandma to comply with today’s accepted standards for personal hygiene. When she didn’t want to or couldn’t take a shower, I would feel like a failure, like I wasn’t even meeting the minimum requirements. (Guilt alert)
The more I looked into it, it turns out that showering once or twice a week works for a lot of people, especially if they’re not doing too much and they don’t smell terrible.
The bottom line is that a shower doesn’t deliver the same sensory experience for everyone. For me, a hot, steamy shower may be just what the doctor ordered. To Grandma, my definition of warm was scalding hot. It became clear to me that getting in and out of the shower and standing all that time was hard for her. It hurt her knees. It wore her out. As time went on, Grandma had less and less energy for showers. Sometimes, that’s the only thing we would do that day.
The longer I spent caregiving, the longer I realized that it really wasn’t worth the fight.
Once you get past the initial mental turmoil of bathtime, there’s always the risk of falling.
A few months after I got her home from the hospital the first time, my grandma fell in the shower. I was RIGHT THERE with her. She ended up breaking a toe, which led to a huge infection, which led to us finding out she had to have her gallbladder taken out and another two week stint in rehab.
From that point on, we were both much more careful during bathtime. The shower had us traumatized. Grandma couldn’t remember the specific event but could associate the shower with danger. I remembered, though. Too well, in fact. I would have mini flashbacks of her slipping and her bright red toes.
I realized that giving Grandma a bath was going to mean becoming more hands on. So, channeled my inner Cathy Sikorski and started Showering with Nana (pretty much).
When she got home that time, we asked Leo to install some *permanent* grab bars outside of the shower to help her while she was getting out.
I swear we tried three or four different “non slip” mats before we finally found one that didn’t slip around too much.
Despite all of the safety precautions we had in place and my new laissez faire attitude toward personal hygiene, showering was stressful AF.
Even getting Grandma to shower once a week was turning into a major feat. I’ll admit sometimes it didn’t happen because I was simply too worn out. (Guilt alert #2)
If I asked her to take a shower, she would always decline or say she didn’t need one. When we started writing it on the weekly schedule as part of the routine, it was harder to say no. We chose Saturday, so she could be fresh and clean for church. (Being fresh and clean for church in itself is a major motivator.)
I started turning the shower into a performance. Doing it the same way. Every. Single. Time.
Before the act began, I set the stage. I laid out the towels on her bed and in the bathroom and strategically placed all the hand towels, creams and supplies I would need.
When we started heading toward the bathroom, I put on her favorite- Liberace. Playing music during bath time was a game changer. Not only did it help her feel more relaxed, i noticed it helped take the edge off of the experience for me.
From the time she got out of her chair till the time we headed back to the living room after the bath, I started chattering the whole way through.
“Alright, now let’s go back and take a bath… okay now we’re in the bedroom. Let’s get your clothes off and we’ll go into the bathroom. Okay now let’s get in the shower. Be careful! Okay I’m going to turn the water on…”
You get the picture.
My grandma can’t keep up with the steps in our bath time routine anymore, so chattering has become more important than ever.
When it turned it into a ritual like this, it took the stress and worry out of it. Going through it the same way consistently makes it feel like I have control of the situation. It gives me the confidence and assurance I need to turn a stress-inducing experience into a regular chore.
What tips and tricks do you use to make bath time less stressful? Drop them in the comments below!! I’d love to hear your experience 👇👇👇