Why does my mother take her clothes off?

Artemis asked...

I cared for my mother until she was 95 years old. In that year, she suffered two strokes affecting her speech and vision. After a hospital stay, she was admitted into a nursing home. Her dementia deteriorated after the strokes and she has developed some unusual behaviours. She constantly takes her clothes off and urinates on the floor. We are now in the process of having 'jumpsuits' made, which will prevent her from shedding her clothes. Sometimes, I think it's a game- because she laughs and jokes when discovered. The carers obviously get tired of redressing her. Mum has since turned 96 and despite her disabilities- looks great! Other behavioural changes include refusing to eat (until she is helped), talking to people who aren't there and on a bad day- complaining about everything. On a good day, however, she's the happiest person in the world. I couldn't have said that prior to her having the strokes. As for constantly taking her clothes off, she seems to enjoy it, but I'm convinced it isn't a deliberate behaviour. Many thanks for any insights.

Expert Answer

Monica is an occupational therapist and designer of adapted dementia products through her company MindStart. Activities for Persons With Memory Loss. In addition, she works with the Minnesota-North Dakota Alzheimer's Association and the University of Minnesota on dementia issues. MindStart provides age-appropriate and stage-appropriate dementia activities, such as games, puzzles, and books. The items are simplified to meet the needs of various stages of dementia while remaining dignified and familiar in appearance

It must be very frustrating to watch your mother behave in a way that is not the norm for her previously. Unfortunately, this is part of dementia. However, instead of thinking of these acts as "behaviors" view them as "communications" as usually there is a meaning behind the act. For instance, your mother taking off her clothes and urinating on the floor could be her communicating that she needs to go to the bathroom but does not know how to get to a bathroom. Or her undressing could be because she is hot or her clothes are uncomfortable. Or she might be bored and not know what else to do. The jumpsuit is a good thing to try. Along with that, she might also have staff bring her regularly to the bathroom and provide her with appropriate dementia activities.

When you say your mother does not eat unless fed by staff, it may be that your mother does not know the first start to get eating. If staff helps with the first few steps (getting the fork in her hand and helping her stab the food), then your mom might be able to complete getting the food into her mouth. Consider behaviors as a way of communicating something. You may find some very simple solutions or strategies to manage these acts.