Of Sweaters and Shampoo

As mom’s dementia increases, so goes her sensitivity to fabric–texture, weight, design, weave–even fit. Once an accomplished seamstress, her tailored clothing fit her proportianately petite figure; her closet organized by color: salmon colored slacks hanging with the favorite peach and pink seersucker plaid blouse; the festive  red and black plaid boiled wool vest with silver European claw fasteners, a carefully selected gift from my sister, hung ready for the Christmas holidays with black wool gabardine slacks, the creases perfectly and effortlessly ironed.

Twenty five years after her retirement, three and half years residency at a local assisted living facility, practical reality transcends fashion and classic lines.  Last year, our clothing challenge  appeared in the form of mom’s complaint that her slacks were too tight. While she’s suffered from chronic gas and belching for some time, primarily caused by anxiety, she experienced even the ubiquitous elastic waisted slacks to be confining. However, for someone suffering from dementia, problem solving, everyday problem solving painfully, incredibly fails…If the room is too hot, your or I would–without thinking–turn on the air conditioning or open doors to create a breeze way. If I was tired of wearing a jacket, your or I would give it away. But with dementia, a logical, automatic response goes missing. Rather, my mom likely will turn on the heat to cool the room. Mom will throw away her clothing.

 It’s always important, however, to identify the culprit: the dementia, the worn out, shrivled up synapses that no longer connect. Faulty problem solving appears in myriad scenes playing out every moment of every day for people with dementia.

My sister and I hoped new sweaters, in a large size, would help take the chill off for mom. She approved of the order : beautiful teal and a deep magenta. Upon arrival, mom tried them on and despite their generous fit, she insisted they were too small, triggering an oft-repeated story about her broad shoulders. Perception. It was all about perception, ‘though it took Mary and me a couple of times to get the message. We put them away for an upcoming trip to visit Mary, who lives in the mountains. Soon as mom saw them, she adamantly reminded us that they were too big and we should give them away. We got it.

It’s just curious to me, the hypersensitivity, especially from a woman who once admired the fine hand of Pendleton wool plaid or a beautifully woven cotton print. More misfiring synapses.

I wonder what I’ll reject in 33 years…chocolate? a favorite pair of socks or flannel pajamas? red wine? No matter. For my children, should I grow unable to tolerate such things, just be sure I have a lot of what is comfortable.

Mistaking moisturizing shampoo for lotion, mom’s face grew red and more red, hot to the touch. To soothe what she perceived to be dry skin, she applied another layer of shampoo and another layer of shampoo. A month or so ago, and again today when I picked her up for her annual eye appointment. I did my best to painlessly removed the shampoo, the layers almost impervious to water and washcloth. “We’ve really put you through the meat grinder this week, mom. And I interrupted Friday afternoon bingo, to boot.”

I was reminded of cleaning one of my children’s skinned knees as they sat on the bathroom counter, careful to clean without adding injury. And the skin, so perfectly soft. For those who’ve never touched aged skin, it’s remarkably soft, a silky smooth, but vulnerable, a reminder of our humanity and the touch we all need.

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One Response to Of Sweaters and Shampoo

  1. kathym says:

    I have a very hard time with seeing Mom in mismatched clothing. She never liked dress clothing, but always looked nice in the casual clothes she chose to wear most of the time as she got older. Yesterday, it bothered me too much to leave it alone–this is all about me!–that she was wearing a black jacket with tan corduroy pants. Mom has so many things that would look NICE with tan pants, that I suggested she change. She complied, and looked, to MY eye, better. Does it make any difference?

    The shampoo issue is tough–especially when fixing it is going to cause conflict, and she IS trying to take care of herself! Recently Mom was bothered by chapped lips. I bought some Blistex and gave it to the staff who distribute medicine so they could put it on her each night when they deliver meds. I knew Mom would wonder what it was and put it somewhere that would render it lost and unusable. So far so good.

    We caretakers can’t help but search for solutions, but are so often frustrated. Have I told you about the wastebasket? Maybe I’ll write about that, if I haven’t already.

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