A frustrated friend called me for help while visiting her mother. Her mother’s Alzheimer’s was progressing and she was exhibiting some, let’s say, wearisome behaviors (to my friend that is). It had been over a week and her mother refused to change her clothes. She and her sister had spent days going through her mothers’ expansive closet showing her all of the beautiful clothes she owned; yet she remained in the same outfit.
I ask her one question, “What is it about those clothes?” After a perplexed silence, she asked me to explain. I invited her to consider that, though her mother was confused, there could be a valid reason behind that particular choice of clothing over the plethora of other options. I recommended she ask her mother directly why she refused to change her clothes.
A few days later she called to share what she had learned about the clothes… Her mother spent some of her childhood in a German concentration camp. She had experienced the horrors of Hitler’s reign and the death of her parents, family and friends first hand. Everything she owned she could carry in her pants pocket. These items, though not valuable, were very sacred because they were hers. As her Alzheimer’s progressed she began to relive some of the fear and paranoia associated being the survivor of such an unspeakable trauma. I advised her to buy several outfits similar to the one she was wearing and donate the rest of her clothes to charity. She did and her mother started changing her clothes.
Another friend shared her frustration over her father’s need to wear the same jeans all the time. I advised her to ask him “Why those pants”. A few days later I saw her again and she said that her father explained that they were comfortable and that when he tried to find replacements nothing fit him right. Though she understood, the pants were well worn and had some good sized stains; and she added that she was ready to sneak into his house in the middle of the night and steal them so he would be forced to get new ones. I imparted a compromise. What if she dyed the jeans a dark color to cover the stains and make the pants more presentable? Then he gets to keep his favorite pair of jeans and she doesn’t have to be embarrassed about taking him out in the pants. She did and it worked.
Points to Ponder:
- Have we tried to push our agenda on an elderly loved one due to embarrassment or frustration without asking some simple questions?
- How can we create an atmosphere of communication?
- What compromises can we come to that would work for both of us?
These tips can be applied to more than just caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Take time today to ponder questions that could open up communication in the all the important relationships in your life.