EARLY SIGN OF DEMENTIA – GRANDPA WEARS SWEAT SUIT TO HOLIDAY DINNER

Where is grand-pa? All the family were comparing notes, before dinner, on Thanksgiving. “Did you talk to Dad?” “Did he seem to understand where to go and what time?”  And so the conversation went, while the sisters were getting ready to put the dinner on the table. Then right before dinner time, there was the door bell, and the sound of Grandpa letting himself in.

There was Grandpa, smiling, joking and also sporting his old grey sweat suit. On closer inspection he hadn’t shaved, his hair looked greasy, and he was covered in dog hair. When asked by one of his son-in-laws why he was wearing a sweat suit for Thanksgiving, he gave his now customary response. “This is so comfortable,” “This is so warm,” and ” I am afraid of catching cold.”

When asked why he didn’t go to church that morning, it became clear that it was just too hard to get out of that sweat suit, too much trouble. Once again it is just too comfortable, and warm.

Once dressed the confused elder has a sense of security, feeling put together. And more mentally together as well, as the favorite outfit now becomes a security blanket. And what could be more secure than the feel of  fleece, the feel of a sweat suit. So the confused elder then begins to resist bathing, getting into pajamas or even changing that sweat suit for a clean one.

This chosen outfit is then worn everyday, to eat in, sleep in, work in, relax in, for every season, and on every occasion. Grand-pa doesn’t know that he is wearing his confusion out there, for everyone to see.

So for this family as well as for many families during the holidays, the private conversations turn to “how bad is Dad?” “Should we be doing something?” “Is it time for him to go to a nursing home?”

No, its not time yet. Grand-pa drove himself over, seems to only drive with-in a few miles of his home, and has had no accidents. He is able to monitor his gas, and maintain his very old car. He appears well fed, so he must still be able to get his own food.

What can be done now, is to keep in close touch with him. Get in the habit of calling frequently, asking what he has eaten, where he has gone, and what he is doing. Make sure that he is able to use his telephone and that it is user friendly. Go to his house and make sure he has an adequate amount of fire alarms, especially one in the kitchen and by the clothes drier. Get in a schedule of checking the batteries for those alarms. Look at his kitchen items for any signs of burning.

Look carefully around the house for tripping hazards and move furniture to create clear walk ways. If clutter is beginning to be a problem, ask for some of the things instead of suggesting throwing things away.

Get more people involved. Start having food delivered, especially grocery staples. Start having a cleaning service come in  on a regular schedule. The important thing is to start these services, so the confused elder gets used to having these people around. Then, over time, these services can be increased as needed.

As annoying as the Thanksgiving sweat suit can be, it is really just a sign of things to come, and a sign it is time to plan.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing