Apr 7, 2010

Dotty Gets a Haircut -- I Use My Ace in the Hole

You have to shift over into Alzheimer's world. Believe it or not, Alzheimer's world is a pretty interesting place once you get there.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Yesterday, I had to wake Dotty up early for her semi-annual blood test. This test requires Dotty to "fast". As a result, the appointment needs to be very early in the morning.

The day started off great. Dotty didn't wake up early, so I had to wake her at just the right time to get her ready and whisk her out the door for the test. Mission accomplished.

I did forget to take my new pee collector, so she had to hit the cup. Mission accomplished.

I decided the night before that I was going to get Dotty her first professional haircut in years.

Starting a few years ago, Dotty refused to allow anyone other than me to cut her hair. I was less experienced then as a caregiver and as a result I just gave in and let her have her way.

I started cutting her hair for her. I am proud to say that I can do I good job. I learned how to cut her by watching shows on television. Of course, I have lots of experience watching my own hair get cut.

We have this woman that can give you a fantastic haircut. Unfortunately, she moved to another shop about 15 miles away and this adds a new variable to the equation. Driving distance. Nevertheless, I was determined to get us there and for both of us to get our hair cut.

Now I will describe my new found caregiving ability and how I made it happen.

I started working on Dotty as soon as we got in the car to go to the blood test. I started by telling her "WE" were both going to get a haircut and how great our hair was going to look. Dotty of course told me, not me, I am not getting a haircut.

Here is difference number one. Instead of getting bent out of shape I laughed when she said no. The key difference here is I expected her to say no, and when she did I did find it genuinely funny -- so I laughed.

I continued to work on Dotty while we were sitting around waiting for the blood test. Nice and gentle, nice and easy, explaining all the reasons why the haircut was going to be a great experience for both of "us". Dotty is slowly but surely coming around to my way of thinking.

On the car ride to Lake Worth, I keep working on Dotty. One minute she is getting a haircut, the next minute its no. Dotty does make one astute comment along the way, she tells me this is a long way to go for a haircut.

At this point, I am still holding my "ace" in the hole technique back. My ace? I am going to link the haircut to breakfast, to food, to one of Dotty's favorites -- the egg.

When we get to the hair shop and park, I say to Dotty, come on we are going to get our hair cut. What do you think Dotty said? LOL. She said, oh no, not me.

Notice here that Dotty and I are having a dialog, a conversation, no fight, no threat, no frustration, no exasperation. As far as I am concerned we are playing a game. It is fun to watch the various looks on Dotty's face.

It is now time to play my ace in the hole for the first time. I go around, open the car door, and say, come on. Dotty says no.

I tell Dotty that as soon as we get done getting "our" haircut we are getting breakfast. What do you think Dotty said? She says, good, I'm hungry.

The key word here is -- good. Within the interaction between us, Dotty has now said the word good in association with breakfast. Please notice that haircut and breakfast are now linked. So Dotty actually also said good to the haircut whether she knows it or not.

We are having a rather pleasant time by now. It's Dotty and me, we, us, and shared experience.

We get into the salon and I go first. My hair is a mess. It's been a long time since Jackie last cut my hair. In between I had a few other barbers hack away at it. I tell her short, put me back in balance.

Meanwhile, I tell her to face me toward Dotty. Dotty now has a cup of coffee in her hand. Happy Dotty. I smile at her intermittently. She smiles back. I now know its gonna happen without any real resistance.

It is now Dotty's turn to get her hair cut. I walk over and tell her time for your haircut. What do you think she said? Oh no, not me. I put my cheek on her face, I rub it up against her face a little bit.

Our heads our now connected. I whisper in her ear, you are gonna look great. I also shoot my thought right into her brain.

Jackie comes over and says a few sweet words. Jackie is very sweet. She isn't American bred, she loves and respects the elderly. Dotty is in the chair.

I tell Jackie. Just trim the ends a bit. Put it all in balance -- even it out. I want to make sure there isn't much difference. I don't want Dotty complaining about her haircut, or her hair being too short. Not this time anyway. We are going for a pattern here. The pattern here being haircuts for Dotty.

Dotty gets her breakfast as promised. As soon as we get home, I get Lidia to tell Dotty how great she looks with her new haircut.

I'll close by saying, Rome wasn't built in a day. You have to work the ball down the field slowly but surely when you want to convince someone suffering from Alzheimer's to agree, rather than to "just say no all the time".

You need to be patient. These kinds of things don't happen over night. It takes some practice, some trial and error. You need to discover what works.

Most importantly, you must remember you are dealing with a person with a very sick brain.

You have to shift over into Alzheimer's world. You are the one that needs to move over into the the intersection of your world and their world -- Alzheimer's world.

Believe it or not, Alzheimer's world is a pretty interesting place once you get there.

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Bob DeMarco
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized expert, writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide. The ARR Knowledge Base contains more than 4,600 articles, and 349,000 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.
Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room