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Posted: April 21, 2008

Practical Caregiving

Strange Behavior Requires Determined Action

How disturbing is it when the parent you’ve loved all your life starts acting strangely, either with a diagnosis of dementia or not? It happens all the time, of course, and the caregiving daughter or son is left to clean up the mess sometimes literally.

This is an old story for Pat in Detroit and Lois in California. They each are dealing with their loved one’s strange behavior, although it is taking different paths in each household.

What’s needed is a thorough understanding of the situation, its likely cause, and to come up with a way to manage the behavior while maintaining your own sanity.

Let’s see if we can help Pat and Lois, who contacted me via email for my thoughts on their dilemmas.


Dear Jean: 

Mom is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease and lives with me. I enjoy having her around, even though she is not the person I have always known. Most of the time, she is a sweet little girl. 

There are times I don’t know what to do with her. She will stand up and take her clothes off, and her adult diaper. I bought a cute jumpsuit type of thing with a zipper in the back. She can’t take it off, but she still tries to. Is this common with Alzheimer’s patients? Is there anything I can do to keep her from trying to take it off? 

Pat S., Detroit, Michigan

Dear Pat: 

Try to think of your mother as a little child. That’s how she feels. A little child will take their clothes off whenever they feel uncomfortable -- no matter who is around. They are not inhibited the way we are. 

Your mother is probably trying to take her clothes off because she is uncomfortable. Try to figure out why she would feel uncomfortable. Perhaps her clothes feel too tight. Her clothing may feel rough. Make sure the clothing she is wearing is soft to the touch. Perhaps she needs to go to the bathroom. Perhaps she needs her diaper changed. Why don’t you try a different brand of diaper? She may need a protective coating put on her skin, in the diaper area. That’s what we do for babies. A diaper is a diaper no matter what size it is. 

If she hasn’t had a good physical examination for few months, make a doctor’s appointment and explain the situation. There could be a physical problem that is causing her to be uncomfortable and that she can’t explain to you. Someone in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease usually has trouble explaining something like that. 

I know this is extremely frustrating and sometimes embarrassing, but it’s not unusual. My mom had Alzheimer’s disease, and she did the same thing. She took her clothes off because the clothes felt too tight. It turned out that the clothes were not too tight, but she had a heart problem that caused a tight feeling in her chest. She thought it was because of her clothes.


 Dear Jean: 

I am an only child and take care of my mother who still lives alone in her house. She can do most things herself. She doesn’t do any housework. I have someone come in once a week to clean the house. She doesn’t do the dishes. I go over there every day or two to wash them and put them away. I also go through her refrigerator because she tends to let things stay in there too long. Several months ago her doctor told her that her problems remembering things was a result of her getting older. 

A few years ago, she heard that we should all be stockpiling food. So she has two freezers full of meat, three cupboards full of canned goods and a basement with shelves of water and other things she thinks she may need when the "end" comes. I do manage to get her to use the oldest food first. 

Now, to the most urgent problem. She has a dog that she doesn’t take out when he needs to go out. Therefore, he makes messes on the floor. She leaves it there for me to clean up when I come over. I’ve cleaned the carpet several times, but I can not get it across to Mom that this can be dangerous. I know cleaning the carpet only cleans the top of the carpet. The floor still has the urine and on it. 

What can I do to help mom realize how bad the situation is with the dog? Do you think it is time to consider assisted living? What else can I do to help her? 

Lois P., Oceanside, California

 Dear Lois: 

Whenever a person is a danger to themselves or someone else, they should not live alone. It sounds like your mother definitely needs to be protected from herself. You started doing that quite a while ago, and from the little bit you’ve described, she probably shouldn’t live alone any longer. You can only do so much without actually living with her.

So, there really are just three possibilities: Someone can come in several hours every day to stay with her and help; she can move in with you; or she can move into an assisted living facility. 

There are assisted living facilities that offer several levels of care. Check them out. You might want to call a home health care agency about having someone stay with her several hours each day. You can also call the social worker in a local hospital to ask about agencies. 

Hoarding food doesn’t seem to be a great problem at this point because you are managing the situation. If you didn’t manage it the way you are, it could be a big problem. Please don’t let it take over the house. 

Does her doctor talk with you about the results of her physical exams? Make sure he does. If he doesn’t, you are probably not getting the complete picture. Getting part of the story can be very misleading. Another thing: medical science has progressed far past the type of reasoning and explanation her doctor seems to give for her memory problems. There are identifiable reasons for memory problems; it’s not just old age. You might want to get a second opinion on your mother's health.


© 2008 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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