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Posted: December 27, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Two Daughters, Two Problems

Alzheimer?s disease is such a complex disease to understand when your loved one has it. What was when one was healthy ? or seems like it still should be ? is no more. It?s a haunting, empty feeling. Jewell wants to know how to get her husband with Alzheimer?s disease to eat better and bathe himself.

Meanwhile, Connie?s mother is weak, uses oxygen around the clock ? and tends to fall. She wants to know if a wheelchair will prevent her mother from falling.

Let?s look together at these dilemmas drawn from my e-mailbag and see what might be recommended to help.

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Dear Jean:

My husband is in the middle of stage two of Alzheimer?s. He mostly stays in his room watching TV and napping. It is very hard to get him to bathe. I help him when he does. I don?t know if this bothers him or not. He doesn?t indicate that it bothers him if I help.

He does not want to eat. I fix his plate, or we go out to eat, and he will only eat a few bites and then push his plate away saying, ?I?ve had enough.? He has lost a lot of weight. I am sure if it was not for Ensure he would starve. This worries me.

He will come into the living room for a few minutes when someone comes by. He asks the same questions over and over, then he will go back to his room. I do not know if this bothers him and he realizes that he is asking the same thing several times. He was a very smart and intelligent person before this disease hit. I feel sometimes that he is embarrassed about not knowing the answers to questions.

My question is, how can I get him to bath and eat.

Jewell F., East Point, Georgia


Dear Jewell:

I know it?s very hard to accept, but your husband will need more help all the time. Someone with Alzheimer?s disease forgets, and doesn?t remember what to do when they need something. At first, Dad was embarrassed by Mom?s situation, but he finally got over the embarrassment and understood that the disease caused her to act that way.

I know you don?t want to do this, but try feeding him yourself. Mom used to fiddle with her food, but she wouldn?t eat. When I fed her, she ate as she should. Your husband may not understand that eating will help that hungry feeling in his stomach or that he needs to eat more. Or, he may forget what to do next after he has eaten a bite or two. Then, perhaps he may have a little trouble chewing or swallowing. Try to notice what is happening and how he reacts when you feed him. You may need to feed him several times a day instead of the normal three times.

Bathing is going to be a bigger problem as time goes by. For some reason I don?t understand, people with Alzheimer?s fight bathing. You will need to do more of the bathing yourself as his disease progresses.

I?ve been there with my mother, and I know what it?s like. Your husband is slowly becoming more like a little child and will need your help more and more. Once he quits doing something, he won?t relearn it. Just remember that down deep he is the same person you married and that he still loves you. He may not understand everything, but his feelings are the same.

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Dear Jean:

My 87-year old Mom has fallen several times because she is weak. She had TB when she was young and is on oxygen 24/7. She has problems with her back, and I?m afraid she?s going to fall and break something. I?ve heard that when an elderly person falls, they usually never get home again. She uses a cane but still falls. Would a wheelchair help her?

Connie J., San Diego, California


Dear Connie:

A wheelchair might help her, but she also could fall getting into or out of it. Talk to your mother about your concerns, and also discuss this with your mother's doctor. Since she is living alone, there is always the possibility that she might fall and not be able to get up until someone finds her. I personally know of several people who have fallen and had to lie there several hours before they were found. That would be a horrible situation for both you and her. Make sure she has the device she can use to call someone if she needs help.

Perhaps it's time to have your mother move into an assisted living facility. You might have to insist that she consider it. You could take her for a visit, eat there, and ask anything she would like about life there. She would develop friends there, and homes have activities she surely would enjoy. Of course, it?s hard for an elderly person to give up their independence.

I wish you the best. You are gradually becoming the parent to your parent, and that is so hard.

© 2004 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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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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