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At wits end with smelly 82 year old mum! - Page 4 - Carers UK Forum

At wits end with smelly 82 year old mum!

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Hi Tony,

I have similar issues with my elderly parents so can sympathise with what you're going through. My father is 82 and has never been very keen on taking baths - even when he worked full time he only took 1 bath a week (although he did have a thorough wash morning and night too). My mother is 84 and used to love soaking in the bath a few times a week, but now it's a battle to get her to take a bath at all. I reckon that the pair of them have probably had about 3 baths each over the course of the last year - which is about 3 more than either of them thought they needed! Image

My parents don't seem to be washing very often nowadays either, but when they get a bit smelly they will at least agree to change their clothes and sometimes I can get my mother to wash her hair at the sink or soak her feet, with help from me. My mother is frail but has no real mobility issues - she's just given up on life. My father has dementia so loses track of when he last bathed/washed/changed his clothes. Also he has hip/knee problems, so he struggles to get in and out of the bath (but won't let anybody help him). The other day he was really quite smelly and wanted me to take him out to the garden centre, so I used that as a lever to make him have a wash and change his clothes. That was when I noticed, as he stood over the sink having the briefest of washes, how breathless and tired he got, just standing there for a few minutes. That was when I had a long conversation with both my parents and said I think the time has come to get a walk in shower cubicle with special seat, so they can both have showers and not struggle in and out of the bath. They finally agreed (they were resistant to this idea in the past, saying they don't like showers). The shower cubicle will be fitted in about 10 days' time so it will be interesting to see if they make use of it.

Anyway, back to your mother and the ongoing problem. When comparing her situation with my parents, the one thing that jumps off the screen at me is the fact that she is regularly walking around the village etc and still socialising with people. It seems she has no real mobility issues and so the lack of washing/bathing seems to be more a case of won't rather than can't - in other words, it seems to be something of a lifestyle choice for her. Not very nice at all for anybody who has to be around her for long, and not at all funny for you and your wife, esp. when you are both making so much effort to help her. OK, so she's made her choice - now you need to make yours. Choose NOT to have her in your home or your car, unless/until she changes her ways and shows you a little more consideration. Don't feel guilty about it - your mother is not disabled and has energy enough to walk around and take bus journeys, but seemingly just chooses not to keep herself clean. Be firm with her on this issue. Let her know you will continue to offer her help in various ways, but explain that you are not willing to have her share your personal space - home, car etc unless she makes an effort on the hygiene front. Explain how strong the smell of her BO is - old people often lose their sense of smell so she might be quite surprised to hear this from you. Your mother has every right to choose to be a "dirty mare" as she so quaintly puts it, but you have every right to restrict contact with her and restrict the impact of her lifestyle choice on you.

PS: Just realised I'd missed reading your post on page 2. Noticed you said that 2 or 3 times a week she turns up in the evenings and just lets herself in without even knocking the door. Image It sounds to me as though you've made yourself too available to her and she's taking advantage. You really need to change that. I suggest you have a long conversation with her where you explain all the reasons why the open door policy is going to end. Tell her that from now on your doors will be locked at all times because you are entitled to your privacy and she is not showing any consideration or respect for it. Just because she's your mother that doesn't give her the right to have free rein of your home, particularly if she chooses to be a "dirty mare". Your home should be your sanctuary.
Hi SheWolf
Thank you for your reply and helpful advice, far better than anything received from social services or my mothers doctor. I also understand your predicament and wholeheartedly sympathise with you as this seems to be a not uncommon problem with elderly parents.
From your advice and others on this site, I need to be more firm with my mother which is not an easy task but I guess in cases like this you have to be cruel to be kind.

My wife is finding it harder to deal with unpleasant chores of washing my mothers 'soiled' underwear not to mention her other smelly clothes she wears for months and this is increasingly the cause of daily arguments and stress. My wife is now insisting that today I contact Social Services to arrange an appointment in the hope they can persuade my mother to keep herself clean and accept that she needs the help. The only leverage I can think of is the fact that she wonders the streets for hours and occasionally uses public transport, which raises the issue of offending people with the smell. I will let you know their response.
Many thanks,

Hi Tony,
So pleased you didn't take offence at anything I said - sometimes I get a bit strident, esp. when I feel that others are being taken advantage of.

Soiled underwear - nasty to deal with. <Warning: graphic stuff coming up now.> My parents have a habit of wearing the same underwear for weeks on end - yuk! Even worse, my father sleeps in his undies, so it's difficult to get them away from him! Sometimes I have to be really brutal and say "Mum/Dad, you really need to change your clothes - ALL of them, because I can smell something unpleasant when I'm near you." Even then they usually resist, but once they cave in it's very easy to deal with the soiled undies - I simply wrap them in a plastic bag and throw them away! Image I've also done the same with Dad's trousers, when he's not made it to the bathroom during an episode of the runs, then actually SLEPT in them overnight in his armchair and the stuff has actually dried into the trousers! I don't tell Dad what I've done, because despite being quite well off he can't stand waste - he thinks these items are going in the wash! However, Mum knows what is going on and is in agreement with it.

A couple of years ago, Dad had had a toilet accident and Mum got in a panic and just put the undies and trousers straight into the washing machine, not bothering to soak them in disinfectant first. When I arrived there later that day we were stood in the kitchen and I could smell what smelt like raw sewage... I looked at the washing machine window and could see the water was all brown and the smell was coming from there. That's when she told me what had happened - I was aghast. I said that she'd now effectively turned her washing machine into a toilet and the whole thing would need disinfecting (which we did). I made her promise NEVER to do anything like that and pointed out that there are lots of places where you can buy cheap underwear/trousers so it's just not worth laundering stuff like that. So now we just throw those things out. Maybe it's not very eco friendly and might seem wasteful, but even if cash is tight I'd rather buy some clothes from a charity shop than deal with heavily soiled clothes. Every now and then I go and buy about a dozen pairs of pants for Dad and a couple of new pairs of trousers, usually from Sainsburys because their clothing is very cheap. Works for me! Image
Hi SheWolf
Wow, I thought I had it bad, but you have far more to cope with than me and you seem to handle the problems with such ease, how do you do it!
My main problem is my mother’s lack of cooperation and I guess my soft hearted approach, always giving in to her none compliance.

I rang social services yesterday and was told that there is nothing they can do without her consent, she has to agree to an assessment before they can take any action or offer any help.
After another round of heated discussions with my wife, I drove to my mother’s house with the intention of giving her an ultimatum, that she must keep herself clean or she will not be allowed into our house or car. On the way there I found her walking to my house, just in time for evening diner. I pulled over, opened the door and she sat in the car. I sat there for a while trying to summon the courage to tell her there would be no welcome in my house unless she took a bath. I bottled out and just couldn’t bring myself to say it and I even ended up taking her to my house where she sat for a half an hour refusing offers of a drink but accepting an ice cream. She left refusing offers of a lift back home, still none the wiser to my plan.

After reading your story and the smooth way you handled your parents, I realise I have to toughen up. But my situation is different in that my mother is not disabled and so is not dependent on me for her every need. She is choosing to live the way she does in spite of the effect it is having on those around her. Can you see how difficult it is. I can’t physically force her to take a bath and I can’t force her to eat proper meals, yes I could throw her entire wardrobe of smelly clothes away, but any new clothes would soon become tainted. It’s a catch 22 situation and I can’t see any viable solution other than a permanent ban and I am finding it impossible to bring myself to do it.

You have my admiration and sympathy.

Dear Tony,
Might I take your wife's viewpoint? You have a smelly mother who is coming into her home, and she doesn't like it. I doubt many women who take pride in their homes would. In my family no one goes to bed without a shower or bath unless they're really ill. You set off to give her an ultimatum, but you don't stand by it.You expect her to wash filthy clothes, I wouldn't, not ever ever ever. She's your wife, not a slave, have some respect for the way your wife likes to live. Hasn't mum got a washing machine of her own? If neccessary buy her a washer dryer and you put her dirty clothes in it. How many more rows is your wife going to put up with? Your mum is driving an increasing wedge between you and your wife, the alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear. From your wife's perspective, you seem to care more about your mum rather than her. Do you want a loving wife or a lonely existence, full of regrets? For goodness sake toughen up before it's too late. Mum isn't allowed in your house unless she's clean. If she wants to live like a dirty mare let her get on with it, but if you value your marriage, consider your wife more, before it's too late. I know this sounds harsh, but I'm widowed and I know only too well just what a lonely existence it is without anyone at home to share my life with.
That is very kind of you to say, but I can assure you that I don't handle things with ease, nor very smoothly at times. My mother is not disabled - she is able bodied and walks around the house quite effortlessly, but is very lethargic and CHOOSES to do absolutely nothing to help herself or my father, who has great difficulty walking around the house.

My parents would never turn up on my doorstep uninvited, because Mum won't leave the house unless she's dragged out, while Dad can't walk further than the front gate and his dementia would make it impossible for him to cope with taxis/public transport, so at least I have some control over when I see them and they're not invading my space constantly.

Interesting turn of phrase you used about the clothing - saying that new clothing would soon become "tainted". I know what you mean and it's true that it wouldn't take long for it to get quite whiffy, but that's no reason not to at least throw out the heavily soiled underwear and save yourselves the unpleasant task of dealing with it. You haven't mentioned money but underwear doesn't cost much and your mother probably doesn't change it that often anyway, so it shouldn't be a huge outlay and will lessen the burden on your wife.

I'm not often successful in getting my parents to wash or bathe, but when they're getting a bit whiffy I get them to change all their clothes and it's surprising how much fresher they both smell with clean clothes on, even if they've not had a wash. The clothes do absorb a lot of sweat etc. so a change of clothes can help a lot. Not ideal but any improvement is welcome.

Bowlingbun made some very good points about the effect all this seems to be having on your wife and possibly your marriage. It's a tricky situation all round and is bound to take its toll, so you need to take any practical steps you can to make your lives easier. It's a pity you couldn't go through with the ultimatum earlier, but you needn't give up at the first hurdle. I think you know you've reached the point where you have to take a firm line with your mother and set some ground rules for the future, it's just a matter of seizing the moment, when you're in the right frame of mind to do it. Good luck.

PS: Forgot to mention, try not to worry too much that she's not eating proper meals. Chances are she's getting enough calories one way or another, because otherwise she'd never have the energy to walk miles each day like she does. My mother has virtually stopped eating solid food (for lots of reasons that I've mentioned in my other post), but seems to be getting by on a mixture of milshakes, sweets and chocolate. It's far from ideal but for many reasons it's out of my hands. I console myself by remembering that babies survive on nothing more than milk for their first few months.
Hi SheWolf
I really appreciate your advice and encouragement which I know comes from a kind heart and the pain of personal experience, thank you.

I took mother to visit her sisters grave yesterday on the anniversary of her death. (see my other post) Although my mother never talks about her sister, I know she deeply misses her as they were inseparable and in spite of my aunt suffering many age related complaints including blindness and very poor mobility, she was a big confidence help. That said, my aunt was willing to accept some help which included a once a week visit from a carer who gave her a wash with a flannel, something my mother would never agree to.

After the trip to my aunts grave, mother was hoping we would take her for a drive in the afternoon sun, but I said I would take her home instead, so she asked to be dropped off so she could walk to her other sister’s house. I no longer take her on trips for obvious reasons and I have to keep the car windows down to release the smell. Later that day I was cycling with my young son when we spotted mother who had just walked past the top of our drive. I stopped to speak to her and told her if she had a bath and put clean clothes on I would take out for a meal and trips in the car. She gave her usual affronted response and march off in a huff. I am determined this time to keep her out of my house until she has a bath.

Well done. Having defended her position, it's going to take a while for it to sink in that you really do mean it.
Well done Tony! I expect there'll be a bit more huffing and puffing to contend with from your mother but unless she's really a big bad wolf I doubt she'll be blowing your house down any time soon! Image

You seem to have got the balance just right... you took her to your aunt's grave so that she could remember her sister on the anniversary of her death, then you managed to stand your ground and limit time in the car afterwards. You've stated your case and given her food for thought and some incentive to change, so hopefully the message may sink in, given time. Your wife is probably pleased that moves are afoot to improve things. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you.

I had a funny conversation with my father today. He said the bathroom was in a right state and he wanted to get Trevor (the guy who's going to refit the bathroom) round to speak to him, as Trevor hasn't done any work on it all week. He said he was feeling a bit annoyed as they'd paid money up front but nothing has happened yet. That's when I had to remind him that work on the bathroom doesn't begin properly until this Wednesday, because Trevor hadn't got a long period free until this week. I explained that the reason the bathroom is "in a right state" is because I've been removing all the tiles in readiness for the paid work to begin, because that's what I told Trevor I would do, in an effort to keep labour costs down. I also had to remind him that no money has changed hands yet - all we've done is buy the new tiles! So, I'm wondering what response Trevor will get on Wednesday... I hope Dad doesn't give him a hard time when he's done nothing wrong. It was actually quite funny but could get a bit embarrassing... maybe I'd better put a big note on the bathroom door soon, as a reminder.

Back on topic, Dad has been changing his shirt occasionally but I've not seen any undies or trousers in the laundry basket lately... need to have a nag on that front soon. I'm really hoping the new shower cubicle complete with stool and grab rail will encourage my parents to turn over a new leaf on the hygiene front, but I'm already preparing myself for the possibility they may never use the new shower. We had a chat today about going out to choose a new bathroom cabinet and some nice new fluffy towels - green for Dad (his favourite colour) and maybe turquoise or blue for Mum. The new tiles are a pale cream/stone colour and the new toilet and basin are white, so it will be quite a neutral background for any coloured accessories. They both seemed to be looking forward to seeing their new revamped bathroom, but that might just be because they don't like the sight of the bare concrete walls!

I'll be very curious to see how my parents behave with their new bathroom.
Hi and thanks for the encouragement but I am less than optimistic as we have been at this stage several times before. I doubt if she will ever change but I will visit her again today, (if she’s in) and tell her that she has to keep herself clean or risk losing me, her grandson and my wife. If I put that too her it just might be the shove she needs.

Interesting to hear about your father looking forward to his new bathroom. About 6 years ago and when my aunt was alive and in receipt of disability benefits, I tried really hard to persuade them to changing the bathroom into a wet room and even got social services to agree to footing the bill. But my mother and aunt always refused saying they did not want the noise and disruption. Trying to overcome the objection, I said they could stay at my house while the work was carried out but they stubbornly refused the offer. Old age, who needs it.
84 posts