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    Annie's Mailbox

    Ask Amy column

    Q. 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 do get dirty — with small spills or 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 their feelings?

    Querying Daughter


    A. Sometimes older people lose some of their sense of smell (medications can cause this).

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    You can broach this by offering to help with some of the 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.

    Also — please — offer to help with their hair, etc. It may be challenging for them to see 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.


    Q. 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 to have a small gift registry for it?

    Is there a way to tactfully let them know that some household items under $20 would be preferred?

    Suddenly Single

    A. 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.


    Q. Regarding reader responses to the letter from “Joan,” who wondered if she should use a monetary gift for a dream trip or use it for retirement: I am a hospice social worker. I have talked with many people about life decisions. Not one has 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. 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

    A. Working with people at the end of life certainly gives you perspective on how to live. Thank you.

    Send questions by e-mail to or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.