Your Alzheimer's, Memory Questions Answered

  • Focus on the person, not the task.
  • Use past memories and experiences to encourage cooperation (e.g. "You can't go to church in those clothes, we need to get cleaned up.")
  • Try bathing/washing hair before getting dressed in the morning as it may reduce resistance to disrobing and feel more natural.
  • Provide a reason for what you are asking (e.g. "Let's get your bath over with so you can eat breakfast.")
  • Have the person who is most successful (home care woreker, visiting nurse, spouse, adult child) consistently do the task.
  • Proceed in a calm, personal, gentle manner. (I know, easier said than done!)
  • Don't rush. Take time and monitor the PwD responses.
  • Break each task into small, understandable steps. Cue your mother to help herself whenever possible and how to use washcloth, zippers, toothbrush, etc.
  • Provide positive feedback: "You look beautiful with your hair done" or "You smell so good after your bath."
  • Cover all parts of body not being directly worked with.
  • Wash hair last or on a different day than bath. Have you tried the beauty shop?
  • Consider using non-rinse soap or shampoos.
  • Offer your mother a washcloth to hold over her face during hair washing -- or place a sponge or other soft object in her hands to reduce grabbing.
  • Distract the person by talking or singing with them -- something of interest.
  • Explain what you are going to do unless it agitates her further: "I'm going to rinse the shampoo from your hair now."
  • Offer choices: "Do you want to unbutton your shirt or shall I?"
  • Try to avoid becoming defensive if she reacts with fear or anger: II'm sorry, I will try to be more careful" versus "I hardly touched you" or "That didn't hurt."
  • Bathe in the bedroom using a bed or towel bath alternative to tub.
  • Ask her, "Is there anything more I can do to help you be comfortable?"

Good luck, Kathleen Buckwalter, Ph.D., R.N., Director, Geriatric Nursing Center, University of Iowa

You'll also find more expert advice for caregivers in this index of questions and answers on Alzheimer's.

Your Alzheimer's Questions Answered

Question: What are the heriditary chances of getting Alzheimer's? My mother and grandmother both had the disease.

Answer: We suggest you take a look at our questions on risk factors by going to the Alzheimer's index here. Of particular interest to you might be the answer to the question: How Does Family History Affect The Risk Of Developing Alzheimer's Disease?


Question: My mother has been taking a statin-based medication for her high blood pressure and we have noticed memory loss. On one of the specials on TV I remember seeing mentioned that statins can contibute to memory loss. Is this true?

Answer: Click here for a link to a story we wrote in 2008 on memory loss and statins.


Question: My Mother had a TIA (transient ischemic attack) stroke in 2004, and on March 25, 2009 she had a stroke, and now it looks like she is getting Alzheimer's -- she cries and sometimes does not recognize me (her daughter), and after sundown she gets depressed. My question is: Should I get her started on some kind of Alzheimer's medicine? My mother is 87 years young.

Answer: Dear OnCall+ user, it sounds like you are responsible for making the health care decisions for your mother. I am sure it must feel overwhelming at times. First and foremost I would suggest that you make sure your mother has a primary care doctor whom you feel comfortable with, who knows your mother and who is experienced in caring for elderly patients.

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