Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Coal Bin

My mother has dementia. Each morning, in preparation for her trip to daycare, we will invariably fight over whether or not she'll shower.

I don't know exactly why it is people with Alzheimers and dementia don't like to keep clean. I know they lose their ability to do even the most basic tasks. Perhaps she has forgotten how to regulate the water and is embarrassed to admit it. Or maybe she fears falling. Either way, she’s getting in. I'm not letting her go to daycare dirty.

If I hear the diaper box open, I know we’re in for a fight – she’s in a “change and go” mood. But if I hear the water running from the sink, I know she is brushing her teeth and we are good to go. This morning, it was the diaper box.

I rushed in before she could get her first leg in.

“Ma, you have to shower.” Firm.

“I’m not showering.” Even Firmer.

“It’s been three days Ma,” I lie.

“How do you know how long it’s been?” (She doesn’t know she lives with us so therefore doesn’t know that I know what she does every morning.)

“Come on, let’s get your nightgown off.” I say as I approach.

“I said I’m not showering!” (Oh boy…)

“It will be quick and you know you’ll feel better after.” I say.

“Jesus! These people!” (What people? I’m the only one there.)

“Don’t swear.” I say.

“Oh, stop it, will you please?" she says with a wave of her hand. "I need a facecloth.”

YES! Facecloth means she’s going in. Easy one today.

We adjusted the water and she began to soap up. I got a big blob of body scrub in my hands and rubbed it onto her head (she’s bald) and her back.

Once I got to her legs, she said, “What do I work in a coal bin?”

That stopped me. “Did you say a coal bin?”

“Yeah, a coal bin,” she says.

I burst out laughing.
As I looked around her body to her face, I saw she was smiling too.


  1. Lisa, My name is Doug and I am the primary caregiver for my wife. She was diagnosed in November 2006 with Early Onset Alzheimer's at 54 years old. I adjust her shower and help her dry and get dressed every day. My wife objected to taking a shower twice last week. She told me that daily showers waste a lot of water, and everyone knows there are not really necessary. She finally took her shower, more to make me shut up, not because she agreed with me.

  2. Doug, I am JUST seeing your comment. I hope my response gets to you. I will try to email you as well. I am so sorry that your wife has been stricken with this disease and at such an early age. It is a loss for you that is very great. There is one husband in my caregiver support group and I know he benefits greatly from the group. Do you belong to one? I'd be happy to help you find one if you are interested. It helps so much to talk with other husbands/wives/children who are experiencing exactly what you are. My thoughts are with you!