Coping with a Chilly, Challenging Elder

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • My challenging elderly father always said he was feeling a bit chilly, but he’d refuse to put on a sweater or more clothes at home, nor would he wear a jacket over his thin summer clothes whenever he went outside, which of course he also wore in the winter. A wonderful caregiver (Ariana) and I constantly offered warm soups and warm liquids, but he’d refuse, only wanting to eat corn flakes with cold milk. We also constantly tried to get him to take warm showers--forget it, he’d just rather complain (and smell).


    And at night, if we put extra blankets on his side of the bed, he’d cover up my frail disabled mother all the way up to her nose so she’d practically suffocate—yet by morning he’d end up sound asleep on top of all the blankets. We tried to get my mother to sleep in her hospital bed in the family room, but he’d never allow that as he had to sleep with his arm around her--so then she’d refuse to get up not wanting to cause more problems. (Yes, the lifelong enabler.)

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    I thought I was so smart when I bought a dual-control electric blanket, thinking that would surely help. He could be thoroughly roasted on his side when he wanted and Mom could be comfortably toasted on hers. Wrong again! As soon as we’d leave the room, he’d turn his and Mom’s controls to HIGH. My poor mother would be ringing wet the next time we’d check on them. “Dad! Please leave Mom’s side of the electric blanket alone-- she is sweating to death over here!”


    “I didn’t touch it—I swear!”


    Next we tried hiding the controls from him by Velcroing them under the bed, but he’d crawl under there to turn the dials with hog wild abandon. We taped the settings into position, but oh no, he just had to take the tape off. And in the middle of the night (we had an audio/video baby monitor so we could see all this), he’d carefully get up and quietly tiptoe to the thermostat and turn it up, even in the summer. If he was chilly, then everyone must be chilly, so we played “dialing for thermostat control” all night long. (I finally had to get a lockbox put on it.) Then he’d close every window we’d opened, so that meant my parents’ home was like a sauna most of the time—it was a dry heat though.


    Yesss, I took him to his doctor AGAIN (who already had him on every medication you can imagine) and after rechecking everything she threw her hands up with, "I dunno." Then she sternly tells him and writes down on a prescription pad that he must: 1) wear warmer clothes; 2) consume warm foods and liquids; and 3) take warm showers—all of which he acts like he’s never heard before and solemnly promises to do.


    Finally he starts doing all the things Ariana and I had been saying for months on end and gradually the complaining about being chilly goes away. The next time we went to the doctor I could not believe it when my father says, “And I want to thank you with all my heart for those great ideas to keep warm, Doc, they really helped me!” Oy vey--oh well, mission accomplished.


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    And the moral of the story is: Anything you want a challenging elder to do, get their doctor to sternly tell them to and to write it down in a “prescription”!



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Published On: November 06, 2008