I was really baffled when Mom began to wear the same clothes day after day whether they were clean or not. Occasionally, I’d find her bundled up in a winter coat when it was 90 degrees. Once I arrived for a short trip to the grocery store and quick lunch at a fast-food restaurant and found Mom waiting in full make-up, long evening gown and dangling earrings.
Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimers, but I had yet to do much reading or inform myself of the myriad of odd behaviors that came with that diagnosis. It was several weeks before I equated her new eccentricities to a decline in cognitive thinking. I didn’t understand the reason why she lost the ability to dress properly, or all interest in cleanliness until much later.
In the beginning it became a battle between us–me trying to convince Mom to change clothes or shower by sheer force. If asked about it, she would only shrug, totally unconcerned by my beleaguered attempts to improve her hygiene. It was totally confusing to me. I was struggling to teach the very person who had taught me all I knew about living and learning and cleanliness.
Eventually, in the middle stages of Alzheimers, Mom refused to shower at all. Our daily battles over the shower and hygiene became so stressful it still hurts to remember the angry words we spat at each other. Now, if I had it to do over, I don’t think I’d care if she ever showered again. It was many months before I learned that demanding and arguing only encourages the Alzheimer’s patient to become more obstinate and aggressive. Always “pick your battles” and remember, in light of the eventuality of Alzheimer’s, almost anything is tolerable.
I still don’t know exactly why Alzheimer’s patients are so afraid of taking a shower, but I’ve seen it to be true with most of them. Many of the residents in the Group Home where mom eventually stayed were only brought to the shower after much encouraging and coaxing. I do think it’s some kind of fear. Possibly, a fear of the water, the bathroom fixtures, the temperature settings. They do forget how to adjust the water temperature and I’ve often wondered if they’ve suffered a burn during that process. Whatever the reason, you can read the fear in their eyes when you mention a shower. Mom was terrified of the shower and if I left her to do it herself, she would disappear in the bathroom for long minutes, but exit without a drop of moisture in her hair.
Working on my “fear of the water temperature” theory, I found a solution that worked for us. I turned on the water in the shower, adjusted the temperature, and let it run as I left the room. It wasn’t long before Mom was hunting me down. “You left water running in the bathroom,” she told me, “it will flood the floor.”
“Don’t you remember, Mom,” I said. “You told me to adjust the water because you wanted to take a shower. That’s what I did.”
Mom would only hesitate for a moment, search for a reply and then say, “Oh…I forgot I asked you to do that. Okay. I’ll take my shower now.” And she was off to the bathroom and a shower as though it had been her idea all along.
- The Alzheimer’s sufferer becomes expert at denying and covering for their memory lapses in the earliest stages of this disease.
- They know how to make you feel crazy by denying their forgetting or pretending they remember while you know full-well they do not.
I must admit, though, I did marvel at how simple the resolution had been for the shower issue and wished I’d thought of it months earlier. It worked for a few months and that’s all I could ask.