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When my mother-in-law gets ready for a bath or for bed, she swears like a sailor. Please help.

Answered by David Troxel

August 28, 2013

I am a caregiver for my mother-in-law. When she gets ready for a bath or for bed she swears like a sailor. We tell her that’s not nice then she starts hitting and spitting. Please help.

I’m sorry that you are having this challenging situation. I talk to many women who are caring for their mothers-in-law. I hope you are getting lots of appreciation from his family!

Let me offer a general comment to start. Sometimes persons with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia who have never used “salty language” suddenly start swearing. Families are dumbfounded by this. What is likely happening is that the damage to her brain is lessening her inhibitions. We all know these words (whether we ever use them or not) and so now that she is feeling strong emotions the “bad” words come spilling out. It probably doesn’t help to ask her to stop, instead let’s look at some potential causes.

Many of us who work in Alzheimer’s care have a saying that “behavior communicates a message.” Because she doesn’t spit or hit constantly, you can reasonably assume that this behavior is her way of “asking” you to stop what you are doing.

Here are a few ideas.

Evaluate her for pain. Is she wincing when you touch her, or moaning or making other noises that suggest pain? She may be reacting so strongly because it hurts her to move her limbs. Check with your physician and consider too that sometimes an over the counter pain reliever like extra strength Tylenol can help.

Rework your approach to set the stage for success. Talk to her about her favorite subject or offer her a favorite snack or beverage; this may calm her. Play her favorite music. She may begin singing and relax. Watch your own body language. Are you coming in stressed and anxious? Try to offer a big hug and smile to change the mood. Apologize in advance for doing what you are doing and offer some reassuring words like “I know this is tough be we will get through it together.”

Look at the time of day for personal care. Perhaps she would be more open to the bath in the evening instead of the morning. If she is resisting going to bed at night, see if letting her turn in later might help. I’ve even had families let mom and dad sleep in a comfortable recliner. You may need to improvise.

My final suggestion is to try getting someone else in to help. We don’t always understand why it is the case but sometimes someone like your mother-in-law will be cooperate with a paid helper (or other family member) when they fight you off.

Good luck and I hope these thoughts are helpful.

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Thoughts and stories from others

  1. February 5, 2014 at 10:54 pm
    Posted by pamela

    I am a caregiver for my mother,I also experience the start of swearing, hitting, and spitting at bath time, most of the time now it is just swearing and saying I hate this. I just reassure her that everything is fine and she will be ok and we will have this over in 5 mins, then you can have hot chocolate or pudding, then lay down if you like or watch tv until you get tired enough to lay down, she always responds with I hate this, I say I know but we have to be clean, she says I know it not your fault, 30 mins all done, we both happy.
  2. February 5, 2014 at 07:29 pm
    Posted by cynthia traylor

    If cussing is all she does. Let her do it. Laugh at it make her bath fun . Give her rubber duckies or toys. My husband has altzheimer and bath and bed are always challenging.
  3. September 10, 2013 at 09:08 pm
    Posted by ann

    My Father has dementure and anytime i make a suggestion his answer is no! Anything i do is not good enough and nothing will please him! I tried useing different approaches and frazeing words differently! For example dad its almost lunch time what would you like to eat i will make it for you or would you like to go out to eat? His response is always no! He will never say yes to anything i suggest! He will never agree with me about anything! To my Father i am always wrong If another person says something or suggest something he will agree with that person and he will do what they tell him! Why won't my Father listen to me and i do not talk to him like a child! I respect my Father and i talk to him in a careing way and in an adult way! Why won't he listen to me and do what i ask him to do? Why is he blocking or tuneing me out? How can i get my point across so he will listen to me and not someone else?

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