How can I keep Mom from doing tasks that just require me to do more work?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 10, 2016
Robster19 asked...

My mother,84, has late-moderate Alzheimers. She has been living with me for a bit over a year now and one of my sisters and I share the care. At this point, she is doing pretty well other than her recent memory does not exist.

Mom likes to keep up with the housework, which helps me greatly. However, there is a problem with the laundry. First of all, I do not ask her to do my laundry, but I appreciate her efforts. The problem is she does not remember to hang my shirts, she folds. I am not a folder and want my shirts hung. I have asked her a million times and have even left hangers out where she can see them. Today when I came home from work, she put two shirts on hangers and let them lay on the bed on top of each other instead of hanging them in my closet. The other six shirts were, yep, folded and wrinkled. I am really frustrated because I've run out of ideas and do not want to upset her by telling her. Should I just hide my laundry so she can't find it? Please help.

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Doing chores with Alzheimer's (AD) is, at best, disconcerting and, at worst, hazardous. In the early stage of this disease, the abilities to organize and to make decisions or choices is slowly eradicated by the changes in specific parts of the brain. These organic changes make it extremely difficult for a person with AD to do routine tasks or chores. Coupled with impaired memory the difficulty grows.

If your mom wants to continue feeling like a contributing member of her family, then performing tasks is an important part of her well-being. The efficacy or perfection of the chore is not important - her feeling of contribution is.

I strongly urge you to bring your special clothing to the dry cleaners or other laundry service. Get them out of her view and leave enough alternative articles for her to launder to help her function as well as possible or at least feeling that she is. It is imperative that you praise her efforts and offer positive feedback. Remember that no matter how many reminders you give, the disease has taken away her ability to process the information and you simply cannot reason with someone who has lost the skill to do so. Becoming angry or showing disappointment at her failed efforts only contributes to her feelings of failure and leaves you frustrated and tired.

If your need for 'hung shirts' outweighs her continued need to do these tasks, perhaps someone else may be a preferred cargeiver. There will be many more choices you will have to make as the disease progresses and learning to 'choose your battles' and to manage your expectations will be the best for both of you.

Remember to take care of you.