Situations & Solutions Are Ever Changing

I would like to tell you where a broom is Mom, however with your super power, dementia, all our brooms have secret homes. Almost 2 years ago, I labeled all of the brooms and dust pans – duct tape and a chunky Sharpie – “Burford Kitchen Inside Only”, “Outside Patio”, “Garage”, “Granny Kitchen” etc. Yet, they are ALL missing.

This morning my mom was outside on the back patio, rapidly getting frustrated because she can’t find a broom. She wanted to sweep. I could see her pacing and her frustration level rising. I opened the patio door and offered to help. I was met with an eye roll. My thoughts exactly! It is in this moment that I can not say, “Well Mom, you have used and removed every last one from their assigned locations.”

Instead, I start looking in the usual hiding places – next to the hot tub, behind the shrubs and under the deck. Scoffing at the idea that she would have left a broom in such a ridiculous place, the two of us search the same backyard-not once looking in the same place. Offended and genuinely believing it was not and could not have been her that misplaced the broom, she moves to sweeping with a fallen branch. (Creative yet not effective.)

Maybe it seems that I am ridiculous to label brooms – who cares right? Well I agreed with you until…I didn’t. We have 2 dogs and one day I looked outside from my kitchen, my mom was using the broom to pile up dog poop (an obsession for another post). Later that day the same broom was sweeping my kitchen floor with my mom attached to the other end. GAG (me with a spoon – the 80s girl in me couldn’t resist!)

I am not a germaphobe but SERIOUSLY. I gently pointed the issue out to my mom. “Oh that makes sense.” Unfortunately, it only made sense at that moment – then it was forgotten. Translate forgotten, as the behavior continued. I needed to find a way to combat this one.

This is such an odd phenomenon for me to witness from my mom. While my sister and I were growing up, one might say our mom was anally retentive about cleanliness. I often use the example, we would scour the whole house – vacuum, clean toilets, all of it. When mom walked in, the only thing she saw was some tidbit of food caught in the kitchen sink trap. Her focus and the ensuing conversation was about the piece missed. So all that to say, it is odd that now my mom can not see the issue with using a broom that swept dog poop earlier that day to now clean the kitchen floor.

This lack of awareness, has manifested in different situations. I originally chalked it up to mom losing executive functioning. Example, my mom is using the bathroom – we are going to be real here for a second – after cleaning herself she took the toilet paper and wiped some dirt off the floor. “MOM!” “What?” I softly pointed out what she ultimately did, wiped the floor with tissue that had urine on it. To which she responded “Oh, it’s fine!” If her executive functioning skills were working, she would have taken tissue and cleaned herself. Then disposed of that tissue and grabbed a new square to clean up this item on the floor and disposed of it. (This particular day we were lucky that the tissue had not cleaned the floor then my mom!)

I could go on with examples but you understand the behaviors I am referring to. I admittedly had zero expectation that this was part of Alzheimers. Or Lewy Body. Or any other dementia. And why would I? Until my mom, I had never experienced dementia first hand. All I knew was – she would forget who I was eventually.

As with all the behaviors that only happen to other people, they almost seem silly. Until it is your world. The easiest and obvious solution seems to be to correct the behavior at the moment and move on. Oh, but dementia! So that solution is good only for a second. I am always thinking, “How can I modify her world to minimize this behavior in the future?” Hence the labeling with the duct tape. Good, until it no longer occurs to her to read the label.

My suggestion, solely based on experiences, address what is important to you and your loved one. If you are going to Swiffer the kitchen floor with bleach as soon as your mom finishes sweeping with a poop broom – then no need for an attempt at a temporary “solution”.

If there is a situation that could cause “harm”, then a work around is needed. That work around may morph as the days go by. Nothing gets stagnant with dementia!

Example, my mom uses a toothbrush to scrub around the toilet. She also uses bleach and other chemicals with that toothbrush. One day I walked in and saw her scrubbing with her current toothbrush – I freaked! No really, I did! This work around was two fold and then had to morph into another solution.

1. Immediately purchased a new toothbrush- an electronic one that in NO WAY resembled the hand held brushes. We rearranged the counter around the sink to just be a toothbrush and toothpaste. Previously, there were sponges and other cleaning supplies because mom leaves items visible for later.

2. All of the cleaning “supplies” including the old toothbrush (and yes I tossed extras into the trash) were labeled Cleaning Only and stored with the bleach near the toilet. Grouping used items together and placing them where they would be used, reduced the chance that she would put a bleach toothbrush into her mouth. (My mom’s toilet is in a separate room from her sink helping with separation.)

Some times the solution will work for days, weeks or even months. Other times, all the effort was for not and the behavior does not end up being modified in any way and we have to try again. In the case of the toilet, ultimately I ended up having the cleaning people spend extra time with my mom and clean the stool exactly how she would have done it. At that point, we removed the cleaning supplies from my mom’s space completely. Leaving her with an oral toothbrush and toothpaste.

Fast forward months. Yesterday, I walked into my mom’s bathroom in her facility, I found her toothbrush wrapped in toilet paper and the charger missing in action. The toilet paper, I was informed was keeping germs off the bristles and “someone” took her charger. The charger was located in her hall closet moments later. When I showed her, she said “I have no idea what that does.” Ok. I placed it back where I found it and will quietly plug it back in and put the toothbrush atop the charging base when my mom is out of the room. She is feeling very sensitive about her “loss of memory”. Remember dementia behavior is not stagnant – this won’t be the last toothbrush interaction we have.

My suggestion is to be creative – keep trying different solutions for your loved one. Most times I find, they are not trying to fight against your efforts, it is solely their illness of which they have zero control.

Know that there are others in the same boat as you. Ask for suggestions, we should not each have to recreate the wheel daily with each behavior, maybe just try a different size or rim. How have you adapted to “missing items”?

God Bless you for taking your time and loving your person.

Thank you for being here with me,


“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”


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