Ask Amy: Parental care can bring unexpected intimacy

March 15, 2013

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, bad breath 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 actually do get dirty — sometimes with small unseen spills or with daily human body odor that builds up after several wearings. Their facility does not have care available, otherwise I would ask for an assistant to clue them in. 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 which 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.

DEAR AMY: I am a professional woman in my mid-20s, and I recently split from my boyfriend of three years. I am moving out of our shared apartment.

Prior to moving in together, I got rid of a lot of my household items. Now, in my single state, in addition to replacing those small things, I also find myself having to make some much larger purchases for furniture.

I have a birthday coming up and plan to throw a brunch party. Is it inappropriate or tacky to have a small gift registry for my birthday?

There are some things I really need. Is there a way to tactfully let them know that some household items under $20 would be preferred? -- Suddenly Single

DEAR SINGLE: You can approach this awkwardness by throwing yourself an “I’m Suddenly Single” birthday bash/apartment-warming party. Instead of a registry, you could ask your guests to help restock your kitchen with small implements. You cook the eggs — they bring the wooden spoons, dish towels, etc.

This leaves some room for your friends to be creative and personal with their giving, which I think most people enjoy.

DEAR AMY: Regarding reader responses to the letter from “Joan,” who wondered if she should use a monetary gift for a dream trip or play it safe and use it for retirement: I am a hospice social worker. I have talked with many, many people about life decisions and regrets. Not one person has ever said he or she regrets not having more money. Most people wish they had taken advantage of opportunities for experiences it is too late to have.

I’m not suggesting we all live like grasshoppers. I work some extra shifts to pay for long-term care insurance. But it also helps to realize none of us is guaranteed a tomorrow, no matter what we do or how well we plan. -- Hospice Worker

DEAR WORKER: Working with people at the end of life certainly gives you an important perspective on how to live. Thank you.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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