DEAR ABBY: During the past year, my wonderful father-in-law was widowed and became unable to live alone. He lives with us now and is part of our daily life. However, he has dementia. He is still quite social and verbal. If you met him, you might not realize that his short-term memory rarely functions or that the filters this well-educated and proper man once had no longer work 24/7.
Recently, he has started ogling women and making comments about their physical attributes when we go grocery shopping or take a walk. He is also starting to confuse the women's roles in our household (me, my daughter, daughter-in-law and niece), which has become even more awkward. My daughter confided that he made a sexual comment about me. (I'm a middle-aged, no-nonsense kind of woman.)
How does one approach such a situation? We don't want someone slapping him -- or worse. I can say, "That's not appropriate," then deflect or laugh it off at home, knowing he won't remember what he said 20 minutes later, but how do we make the best of these circumstances without diminishing his outside social experiences? Moving him to a senior living community is not an option at this point for financial reasons. -- CAREGIVER WITH A PROBLEM
DEAR CAREGIVER: It's time for you to contact the Alzheimer's Association. It offers guidance for caregivers like you. Changes in behavior caused by Alzheimer's and other dementias are challenging. It's important to remember that these behaviors are the result of a damaged brain and not something the person is doing purposely.
If inappropriate behavior occurs in public, be consistent and kind, but firmly remind the person that the behavior is not OK. It may help to distract the person from the immediate situation by directing their attention elsewhere or giving them something else to do.
Caregivers can create "business cards" stating briefly, "My companion has dementia. Please be understanding." Caregivers would give these to hosts and hostesses when entering restaurants, or discreetly hand them to salespeople if situations start to deteriorate because the companion exhibits unusual behavior or lack of a verbal filter.
Be transparent with family and friends about the person with the disease. When they understand what's causing these behaviors and that the individual needs their help and compassion, they tend to be less reactive or judgmental. The Alzheimer's Association may be reached online (alz.org) or via the toll-free helpline (800-272-3900). Please don't wait.