My mother is in the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s, and her behaviour in public can be socially inappropriate (e.g., talking to people she does not know, inappropriate jokes as well as jokes they don’t understand, handing people chocolates from her purse). It is difficult to distract her or get her to stop. My question is: “can you give me some strategies/suggestions for dealing with the shame and embarrassment that her behaviours sometimes cause?” Strategies and suggestions are what I am looking for.
Oh boy! This is quite the dilemma. First of all, I am so glad to hear you are still taking your Mother on outings. This is so important, for her socially and for her mentally. There probably will come a time she doesn’t do so well out and about, but for now, keep up the great job.
There are little notecards you can purchase or you can make yourself to hand out to cashiers, other customers and the like. They are small and simple: Thank you for making my Mom’s outing special. She has Alzheimer’s and still enjoys being social, please be patient and understanding with us and enjoy the show! There are also some you can make up should you need to take a loved one into a restroom that is for the opposite sex (i.e. take your Dad into the women’s restroom). I suggest keeping it light and fun: Surprised to see us in here? Me too….
It is easy to get embarrassed, and it is even easier to say “don’t be”, but in fact, it can be quite the scene sometimes when someone decides to say things normally not voiced, or hands out chocolates to someone who doesn’t seem interested. Part of the embarrassment is the sadness of bearing witness to the changes this disease has left in its wake. Being able to laugh and joke at the situation will go much further than trying to change her behavior. Before you leave to go out, are you able to get anything she could try to giveaway out of her purse? If she doesn’t have any chocolates to give then she won’t be able to. Are you able to distract her once she starts talking to a stranger? “Look at that beautiful painting. Didn’t we see one like that years ago?”
Every once in a while, you will stumble upon someone else who has been through this same scenario and will hopefully play along and have a wonderful conversation with your mother. Wouldn’t it be ideal if we could all take a moment and sit back and laugh at such “inappropriate” comments and behavior? In the midst of each situation, it can be frustrating and not only embarrassing, but cause for divisiveness. It will take a strong person to overcome all of these things and take each moment for what it is: an opportunity to educate others on what Alzheimer’s is really like; an opportunity to have some lighthearted moments with your Mom; a moment to take a breath and put things into perspective. None of these options are easy, but if you are at all able to find humor and fun with her changes, grab hold and don’t let go. Otherwise, try to limit the things in her purse, try to distract her, try to limit the number of people around you (go to restaurants or stores at non-peak times). You can also try to gently remind her if something isn’t appropriate, and when you do, keep in mind that she more than likely won’t care.