Minding Our Elders: Loss of control behind mother’s stubbornnessDEAR CAROL: My mother has some health issues but her mind is fine. Dirty hair is the issue we fight over. She’s sensible about most other things, so it’s baffling. She’ll shower, yet she won’t wash her hair.
By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM
DEAR CAROL: My mother has some health issues but her mind is fine. Dirty hair is the issue we fight over. She’s sensible about most other things, so it’s baffling. She’ll shower, yet she won’t wash her hair. I’ve offered to help her but she says she doesn’t need help. I’ve suggested that she wash it when she showers but she says that won’t work. She won’t let me take her to a salon, either. She looks awful and she used to be so neat. She doesn’t seem to mind washing her face so I don’t think she’s afraid of water. What can I do? – Amanda
DEAR AMANDA: You sound quite positive that your mom’s mind is healthy, and you’ve offered to help your mom in nearly every way possible and she’s refused, so I suggest that you just let go of the topic for awhile.
It seems to me that your mother may be using this hair issue as a means to exert some control in her life. If you back off and don’t even mention her hair, she may eventually wash it or even ask you if you two can go to a salon together. Give her some space to make her own decisions in every way possible, even if you aren’t totally in agreement or you feel you can do something better or faster. She may surprise you.
As people age, well meaning loved ones, friends and even outsiders often start giving the elder what they see as advice. Doctors tell them to change their lifestyle for better health. Adult children tell them they’ll take over chores in the home or pressure the elder to hire help or move to assisted living. Soon, it can seem to someone like your mom that she has no say in her own life.
Dirty hair won’t kill or incapacitate your mom so if she’s grabbed on to this one issue to exert control, let her. If you can put compassion ahead of practicality you both may come out ahead.
That being said, do watch for dementia symptoms since people can vary with the symptoms they present. Most commonly, people expect that memory issues are the tip off for dementia. However, personality changes or seemingly senseless resistance to familiar routines could signal a need for a checkup. I’d try giving her space first, but if eventually nothing changes, she may need to be tested for dementia.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.