Q. My mom has Alzheimer's disease and has been exhibiting behavior that is distressing to me. No matter where we are, at home or in public, she starts to undress. When I try to stop her she gets upset and either cries or hits me. How should I handle this?
People with Alzheimer's often exhibit inappropriate behavior. Reasoning with them is typically our first response to a behavior but it is fruitless and only upsets all concerned since they have lost their ability to reason.
Distraction is often your best response. You can point out something in nature, a bird or a plant for example, and take her for a walk. You can draw attention to her hands and offer to give her a manicure. You can get her to help with folding laundry. Anything to keep her hands busy and to take her mind off what she had started doing.
Activities that offer instant gratification are often helpful, anything from popping a sheet of bubble wrap to holding a baby doll. "Baby doll therapy" has proven to be very effective for people with Alzheimer's disease, particularly women who played a traditional role of raising a family. Holding the "baby" provides a sense of purpose and peace. If she has been an animal lover, there are stuffed dogs available that are battery operated and look like they are "breathing." Holding one in her lap and petting it could be soothing to her.
Another option is to buy her special Alzheimer's clothing. There is clothing available that looks like a shirt tucked into pants, but is actually a zip-up-the-back jumpsuit. It is available for both men and women. That way she won't be able to remove it.
No matter what approach you take, always remember that it is the disease that is causing this behavior. She is not doing it on purpose to upset you.
NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.