Trouble with activities of daily living

We are having so much trouble with my mother – she absolutely refuses to brush her teeth! Before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she was always very cavity-prone and diligent about brushing. How are we going to get her to brush? When we ask her, she insists that she already brushed them, and becomes very upset when the subject is approached.
Frustrated in DC

Dear DC,
Personal care becomes a real issue for our loved ones with dementia, because it is not only a privacy issue but a dignity issue as well. It’s possible your mom has forgotten how to perform the task of brushing her teeth. That’s why when you confront her about it, she becomes defensive – she’s probably embarrassed!

The first thing you need to learn is to stop confronting her or arguing with her. The real issue is to get her to brush her teeth and it is much easier than it might appear. A good way to translate Absolute #8: Never Command or Demand, Instead Ask and Model is to think of the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

When you need her to brush her teeth, go with her to the bathroom and start by quietly demonstrating to your mother the way you brush your teeth, perform one step at a time, and most likely her rote memory will continue. For example, hand her the toothbrush with toothpaste on it and turn on the water. As you begin to brush your own teeth, she is likely to mimic you. You may need to take her brush, run it under the water and brush her teeth exactly as she has done for years. As you demonstrate the action and provide her with her toothbrush, standing beside her so she can see you, and brush your teeth and she will likely brush hers – in this way, a picture really is worth a thousand words.