Dear Dementia Solutions- September 2016

Breaking Out of His Shell – How Do I Get My Dad to Engage With Others and Enjoy Life Again?

Dear Dementia Solutions:

“Whether it was golf, tennis, or going for a coffee with friends, my dad loved socializing. When at home, he would stay busy with gardening or jigsaw puzzles. Lately, however, his entire outlook has changed. He doesn’t want to do anything or go anywhere and seems depressed all day. I know this is due to his dementia, but both my mum and I feel helpless about what to do. How can we help him find his “joie de vivre” again?”

 ~Worried Daughter

Dear worried daughter:

Watching a loved one with dementia become withdrawn and despondent can be very difficult to deal with. Though you feel understandably helpless and frustrated, know that there are strategies that can help your dad.

Whenever your dad says a firm “no” to a suggested activity, remember that his refusals are coming from the effects of dementia. Saying “no” may be a comfortable response if he’s confused about what you’re asking him. It could also be a sign of self-consciousness. Maybe he’s embarrassed, for example, about no longer being able to swing a golf club correctly. Understand also that saying “no” could be a way for your dad to assert his independence.

Though saying “no” is your dad’s prerogative, he’s shutting down beneficial opportunities. To try turning his “no” to a “yes,” start creating a daily routine for him that will be easy to follow. Next, fit a weekly outing into that schedule, such as a walk with your mum. He may be more open to laid-back activities, compared to something more active, such as golf.

To draw your dad towards hobbies he once enjoyed, such as jigsaw puzzles and gardening, try asking for his help in planting flowers, for example, or completing a puzzle. Feeling helpful can give someone a great boost of positivity and validation. You can even reward yourselves with a treat your dad enjoys, such as cake or pie, upon completion.

If your dad continues saying “no,” don’t feel dissuaded, remind yourself to take a break, and then try again. If needed, step aside and let someone else try. Make sure that you and your mum are taking care of yourselves and consider attending caregiver support groups as well. By taking these steps, you will likely find yourselves moving from feeling helpless towards a greater sense of empowerment.

The Bathing Battle – What Do I Do When My Mum Refuses to Take Regular Showers?

Dear Dementia Solutions:

“My mum, who has Alzheimer’s, is refusing to take a shower. Despite my arguing with her, she’s remained steadfast. I’ve learned that reasoning with her is of no use, but I’m concerned about the consequences on her health and hygiene. After all, we’ve all learnt at an early age that bathing regularly is important. What should I do? Do you have any tips?”

~Showering Stress

Dear showering stress:

A lot of people look forward to a relaxing shower at the end of a long day, and yet for many of those with dementia, showering is met with great reluctance. For caregivers, this can be very stressful and many fall into a cycle of arguing, cajoling and pleading that never seems to get anywhere. As you’ve noted, reasoning with your mum will likely not lead to the desired outcome, so here are some tips to try turning showering stress into showering success! J

Firstly, brainstorm possible reasons for your mum’s refusals. Is Alzheimer’s causing her confusion about what a shower entails? Does she mistakenly believe that she’s already bathed? Is she uncomfortable in water? Remember as well that many of those in your mum’s generation did not necessarily grow up bathing every day.

To encourage your mum to shower, start by identifying times of the day when she’s most likely to feel comfortable, and include her in deciding these times. If she’s confused about the concept of bathing, show her photos of baths, showers or even images of babies bathing. Positive imagery can be great in reducing anxiety and putting a smile on her face. Prepare the bathroom to ensure that it’s warm enough and remove anything potentially distressing. Mirrors can at times upset those with dementia, while music can be soothing. If there were events, such as going to church, that your mum used to shower and dress up for, mention those times to her. Enjoying a treat after the shower can also be good incentive. Finally, if needed, reach out for help by contacting a home care company for assistance.

“Shower times” can be stressful for caregivers, so be kind to yourself. Remember that even if your mum doesn’t shower every day, the main goal is simply keeping her clean and maintaining her hygiene. I wish both you and your mum the very best! J

Do you have a specific question relating to dementia that you need answered? Please submit your questions by email to: [email protected]

Karen Tyrell CDP, CPCA, is a Dementia Consultant & Educator, and Founder of Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. ( She is the author of 2 books: “Cracking the Dementia Code: Creative Solutions to Cope with Changed Behaviour” and “Home Life Memories – A Therapeutic Colouring Book for Older Adults”. Karen offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers to provide emotional support and practical solutions.


The contents of this column are provided for information purposes only. They are not intended to replace clinical diagnosis or medical advice from a health professional. For any health related issue, always seek medical advice first from a trained medical professional.