Terrible toilet troubles

My mom in law is 94, bedridden, blind and almost completely deaf (we literally have to yell to communicate as she won’t wear a hearing aid) is becoming a difficult case for me. I have been caring for her for 7 years but she has lived with us for most of our married life apart from the ten years we lived in the UK. She lives in South Africa.

The problem is that when she passes a motion, she likes to put her hands in it and she smears it everywhere. My husband and I are beyond despair because in spite of our every effort to stop this behaviour, she continues to do it. When we confront her she either denies it, or says that she can’t remember doing it or else she is helping it out. I try and keep her motions soft with laxatives, so she doesn’t have to help anything out… Anyway, the other day, I came to change her and was relieved to find she actually hadn’t done any delving into her nappy. I turned around to put on my gloves and in that instant, her hand disappeared into the leg hole of her nappy and she coated her hand in her poop. I freaked out because we have asked her so nicely to stop, explaining the health issues, etc and she promises most faithfully (when she actually deems to admit that she does it) to stop and never do it again, so for this blatant foray into her nappy just tipped me over the edge.

I am sorry to say that I told her what a disgusting woman she was and turned around and walked out, closing the door behind me. I fed and watered her, but I was so angry that I couldn’t touch her for the rest of that day because I thought I would hurt her if I did. My husband was furious with her.

Is there ANY WAY, to stop this behaviour? I can’t keep up with the linen changes and the house always stinks of poop. What surprises me is that she eats tiny portions of food, yet seems to poop more than I do. I also find that she hides her food in tissues, often covered in poop, under her pillows or in the bedside cabinet.

She is definitely losing it mentally, but this bad toilet habit has been a problem even when she was mobile and able to use the loo. I walked in on her once last year, and she was pooping into her hand. My bathroom was always smeared with fecal matter. It was everywhere. I was often gobsmacked at where I actually found bits poop. Then she’d walk in it and track it through the house. Thank goodness I have tiles, not carpets!!!

So I am totally at a loss as to what to do.

Hi Pamela,

I have made a suggestion on your other thread, that might help.


It is now time for residential care.
It sounds like she cannot understand any more, whatever the reason, it’s unacceptable.
At 94 she is inevitably nearing the end of her life, and will need more and more help until she dies.
YOU are not getting any younger either, and it’s time you had some peace and quiet to enjoy your retirement.

Thank you both. Sadly, we can’t afford residential care and her pension won’t cover it either. I would love to be able to get her into frail care but it is impossible. Today, I tried putting a belt around her pj bottoms, which has helped so far. She is less than impressed. Her hands are too weak to move it (hopefully) :S

Pamela, another tack is to try and keep her hands busy and give her lots of tactile experiences - with a child I would suggest play dough, messy play etc Would she try these? You could make it 'age appropriate e.g. washing up, filling up plant pots, polishing, painting, rolling out pastry, shaping biscuits, kneading dough etc - needn’t be the real thing - see it as therapy.


Oh dear this sounds terrible for you all. She obviously doesn’t know she’s doing it poor lady.

i see you are in South Africa. I have no idea what your provision is there for elderly people. Surely there is some help available.

Hello Pamela. Here is another idea. Try REWARDING MIL when she is good and hasn’t made a mess. Tell her in the morning that if she is clean and does not make a mess then she will get a ‘gift/present’ at the end of every day.

Hi, the only thing that worked for us when my mum was ‘digging in the dirt’ was dressing her in onesies. Then we’d put safety pin in front, from top to the bottom. It wasn’t ideal and made changing more difficult, but it stopped the hands going in. When changing her nappy it helped when two people did it. One holding her hands and the other changing the nappy. Hope this helps. I feel your pain!