Wanted: ‘No tears’ toothpaste


By Anna Nogueira Nicolau

Out of the most humiliating things you can tell a grown woman she should or needs to do, to brush her teeth has to be at the top of the list. It clearly implies two things:

1. Your breath stinks; you have got no sense of hygiene: i.e. you are dirty.

2. You should be treated like a child.

To validate my 2nd point I’d like you to think back to the last time you were asked or told to brush your teeth. If you belong to the general adult population this will probably bring you back to your childhood, but if you are a person who is utterly ignorant of their terrible breath and lacks minimum personal hygiene then you validate my 1st point and will have some fairly recent memories of the last time you were told to, asked to or hinted you should brush your teeth.

My point being: It must be humiliating to be told you should go brush your teeth.

If you’re a lady with dementia it is humiliating and invasive, but if you are a lady with dementia who is not aware of her condition and the need to be reminded to do things it is even more degrading.

Thinking in those terms makes it easier to understand why Dorothy makes such a fuss when I try to get her to brush her teeth. But understanding why sometimes she point blank refuses, argues with me, and simply goes a little crazy when I try to get her into the bathroom for a date with her lonely toothbrush does not take away from the frustration of it all.

I must admit, I’ve been on the job a few months now and have not gone through great lengths to ensure Dorothy brushes her teeth every day. I’d say 1/3 of the time she remembers and does it herself, 1/4 of the time I throw a hint and she does it, 1/4 of the time I hint/attempt to persuade/order her to do it and she does, and whatever other fraction amount left (I wouldn’t say Maths is my strong point) I turn a blind eye to it and she goes without brushing her teeth.

But I had to question the morality of it all. I’m her carer, this is my job, it is simply unacceptable that under my care Dorothy goes even one day without brushing her teeth. But is it acceptable that I should put Dorothy under the level of stress that trying to convince her or make her to brush her teeth everyday puts her under? Is Dorothy brushing her teeth absolutely everyday worth the

  • Raised blood pressure?
  • The very sudden, unexpected and acute outbursts of anger?
  • The stress?
  • The feelings of humiliation of being treated like a child?

If Dorothy knew she is a forgetful old lady whose carer is there to make sure she brushes her teeth everyday she might be more sympathetic to my requests, but unfortunately she is oblivious to what she has, what I do and who I am.

If only there was a way to ensure she brushes her teeth without major arguments. If only there was a toothpaste like the ‘no tears’ promises of children’s shampoos.

  • Explaining all the reasons Dorothy should brush her teeth does not work.

Using reasons such as “It’s dentists orders”, “you might get gum disease again”, “You haven’t done it today”, “I’m just reminding you” only result in angry responses such as:

What do you care?

So what?

Tell the dentist she can come and talk to me directly!

  • Trying to trick her into doing it doesn’t work either:

‘Lies’ such as: “You should clean your teeth now before I go in to clean the bathroom” get responses like:

It’s OK you go. I’ll use the sink downstairs.

  • Hinting things like: “I got some new toothpaste if you wanna use it to brush your teeth now” also doesn’t work as Dorothy just says:

I know where everything is, I’ll use it when I want to.

So…I need a reason, easy to understand, compelling enough, which has nothing to do with her being forgetful, from an irrefutable, authority figure she respects and listens to. It also needs to be tangible so it’s not just my word.

FAKE DENTIST LETTER IT IS!

And after finding out that such letters telling off non-compliance patients actually exist this won’t be a complete fabrication! And it’s for a good reason.

So watch this space and wish me good luck!

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Many thanks.  Anna

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7 thoughts on “Wanted: ‘No tears’ toothpaste

    • From the things that she says, asks and how she acts I think that most of the time she thinks she is a guest in my house. And as to who I am Im a dofferent person everyday and throughout the day-I knoe that she s though I was one of her sisters, friends, her last carer…I suppose I become whoever fits into whatever moment she s living in at the moment. Thanks for the support! xxx

  1. Os motivos que cada um tem para escovar os dentes eh uma coisa interessante. Depois de ler o seu texto, eu comecei a pensar em todas as situacoes que vivi, desde a infancia ate a idade adulta, em que precisei pedir para alguem escovar os dentes. Claro que nao vamos levar em consideracao meus filhos quando criancas mas so os adultos de todas as idades.
    Os motivos que muitos adultos tem para escovar os dentes sao muitos e diversos: p ex: Higiene, tem pessoas que so se sentem limpas com os dentes escovados; muitas vezes eh um caso de ocd, escovam ate demais , mas em outras eh so higiene mesmo, como pessoas, como eu, que tem que lavar o cabelo todos os dias, senao nao se sintem limpas, etc.
    Outra razao para escovar eh estetica e dai eh que veem todas as manias, razoes e loucuras possiveis, como, escovar os dentes com limao, sal sal marinho, bicarbonato de sodio ( Euzinha :), escovar tanto que danifica,m a estrutura da boca, gengivas, esmalte, enfim, Pessoas que veem os dentes como seu cartao de visita e primer obsession!. Aparencia eh tudo, loucura pouca eh bobagem, Mas, voce acharia que algumas dessas pessoas, digamos as ‘normais’ , as que apenas escovam pela aparencia e bem estar, nunca precisariam ser lembradas de que tem que escovar os dentes, nao eh? sao tao dedicadas e paranoicas que vc imaginaria que elas dormem com a escova de dentes embaixo do travesseiro… errou!!
    Em, minha experiencia com o sexo masculino ( nao todos que conheci , e claro, uma minoria), escovar os dentes eh umas das taticas de conquista do sexo feminino. Como as mulheres, que no comeco do relacionamento depilam as pernas todos os dias, ( just in case :), os homens tambem sao assim e vao a extremo. Alguns carregam escova, pasta de dentes e todo o aparato no porta luva do carro ou ate mesmo no bolso, modelinhos portateis. O problema eh que quando a excitacao acaba e a presa ja esta garantida :)… na minha experiencia propria e de amigas… escovar os dentes entao vira mais uma das batalhas diarias, como colocar om lixo pra fora, ou levar o cachorro pra dar uma voltinha. Pior do que lidar com crianca.
    Ai Anna, poderia ser pior, poderia ser melhor, adulto com alzheimer , ou namorado que desleixado, eh tudo uma batalha e, se um dia vencemos uma ou outra , valeu. O importante eh acreditar que vamos vencer essa guerra antes da dentadura postica levar todos os trofeis:)

    • Eu entendo mas essa nao e a maior questao desse artigo. Pelo que a melhor amiga da Doroty me disse ela era metodica em relacao a escovar os dentes. Ela ja correu risco de perder os dentes com gum disease entao ela passava horas no banheiro escovando os dentes todo dia. O problema e que agora ela deve esquecer e se sentir ofendida por ter se ser lembrada. Ela deve achar que ja esovou. Ela ja me disse que acusam ela de nao escovar os dentes e se sente ofendida. Eu preciso achar uma razao que justifique eu lembra-la de escolvar os dentes, onde ela nao tenha que se sentir ofendida – nao e o caso de ela nao ter motivo para escovar os dentes. E outra coisa interessante e que muita gente com Alzheimr’s passar por mudancas drasticas de comportamento e personalidade, Esse pode tambem ser o caso dela. Obrigada pelos comentarios =) Beijos xxx

  2. Pingback: In the shoes of … Ming Ho | Writer and family carer | Whose Shoes?

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