Apr 16, 2012

Problem - Wearing the Same Clothes Day after Day

Carole Larkin suggests some potential solutions to this problem which happens with Alzheimer's patients.

By Carole B. Larkin
Alzheimer's Reading Room

A reader is looking for solutions to a problem.

Dear Carole,

I live in Vermont and am the oldest child of my 88 year old mother with AD and an 87 year old father who is her primary caregiver. They live independently near my brother who is very available and helpful but not always that insightful (you know this story).

I try to visit them every 3-4 months to check in and make sure they are doing OK and deal with all the little issues that seem to pile up.

They are refusing outside assistance although I continue to recommend getting even minimal services in the home (housekeeping, etc) and hiring a GCM is out of the question. They are very private people who are determined to take care of themselves.

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I plan to visit in May and the biggest issue for my dad right now is getting my mom to buy new clothes.My mother was always immaculate and somewhat of a clothes horse but now she refuses to buy anything new. Her clothes are stained, worn and not the most appropriate at this stage of her life.

During my last visit I took her out and had a personal shopper do most of the leg work but when it came time to try the new outfits on, mom balked and said she really liked what she already had and didn't see the point of getting new. "Whom do I need to impress?" "I hate to disappoint you, sweetie, but I'm just fine so can we go home now.”

At this point I'd be grateful to do some online shopping for basic (well constructed) clothing that is easy to wear (elastic waistbands on well tailored slacks) and easy to maintain.

Any thoughts on how to get some of this accomplished before I fly to TX next month?

I'd prefer just spending time visiting and "being with" my mother and not stressing her out with putting demands on her.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my request. By the way, I'm very impressed with your sensitive and informative posts on the Alzheimer's Reading Room.

Note: Real names and locations have been removed in the above for privacy purposes.

Carole's response.

Dear Susie,

Thank you for your kind recognition of my input on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room. It really makes my day to know that what I write gets read, and can help people. My mom had it, and I do this to honor her legacy as well, so she’s smiling too. Thanks for that.

Now on to your question. It’s probably too difficult for your mom to make choices from a number of clothing options anymore. That’s why she wears the same things over and over. It’s not stressful to her. Also, chances are that by this time in the disease, that she literally can’t see the stains, etc…. Plus, I’m guessing your dad is not the world’s best laundress. So, these are my thoughts:

Find out from your dad the outfit or 2 outfits that your mother puts on the most. The color, the style, the size, the manufacturer. Have him take a picture of them if he can and send it to you.
  • Buy 5 identical outfits as closely matching the current outfits as you can.
  • Bring them with you but don’t show them to her.
  • When she is at the hairdresser or elsewhere out of the house, replace the old, dirty clothes with the new ones in her closet.
  • Take the old ones out of the house. Donate them or throw them in a dumpster somewhere if they are that bad.
  • Say nothing- see if mom notices.
  • If and when she does, immediately apologize to her saying that you spilt something (insert what makes sense to you) on her clothes and accidently ruined them. You are so, so, sorry- with the look of pain and guilt on your face. You found some clothes almost like them in the back of her closet or in another closet (whatever makes more sense), and thought she could use them until you buy her new clothes. Please forgive me mom, I feel so bad!
  • That should take care of it. If not, contact me and we can try something else.

Every night thereafter, dad sneaks in after she is asleep, and takes the days clothing and puts it in a (laundry) bag somewhere in the house where mom doesn’t go or won’t see it. (behind something else?)

 Do one of two things: Have a dry cleaner in the area come pick it up say twice a week, clean it, with some of your fathers clothes if necessary, and drop it off (in boxes if necessary) to somewhere in the house she doesn’t go (the garage?) make these arrangements with the cleaning company. Most will do this, for an extra charge of course.

Or make a “gift” of a housekeeper to come over for a few hours twice a week to do the laundry, light cleaning, etc… It’s your gift to them- you are paying the person. You want to do this for them, you can’t help in any other way.

Dad, please accept the gift for my (your) sake!

It will make me feel better, like I’m contributing. Really work him over! And I’ve already found just the perfect person! Make it like it’s a done deal.

If it were me, instead of hiring just a cleaning lady, I’d go to one of the home care agencies and hire a CNA (certified nurse’s aide). She can and will do cleaning and laundry, but can also check to see if mom and dad are taking their medicine correctly, take their blood pressure and temp if they look sick, etc…

When you contact the home care agency just tell them that your parents are resisting, but would easier accept someone who would be called their cleaning lady, at least in the beginning.

The company will understand completely- trust me on this one. The company will come over to do an assessment, just tell your parents it’s part of the cleaning service, to make sure that they will get a person they will like!

You’ll need for the person to come say for 4 hours a day, 2 days a week (at least to start). 4 hours is the normal minimum hours a day those companies need to be able to send someone. Perhaps she can make lunch for them too!

Let me know how that works out.

Warm regards,

Carole Larkin

Carole Larkin MA,CMC,CAEd,QDCS,EICS,
is a Geriatric Care Manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room