What to do when saying ‘stop that’ isn’t enough

Dear Annie: My mother is 82 years old. I love her greatly and know I’m lucky to still have her in my life. All my siblings live out of state, so my husband and I have Mom to our house for dinner and games once a week, which we all enjoy. There’s an issue, however, with which I need your help.

Mom seems to have lost her sense of appropriate grooming habits in front of others. For one, she picks at scabs all the time, although I’ve gently — and then more assertively — asked her not to. Every time I see her doing this, I ask her to wash her hands with soap, but she dismisses my requests.

Another issue is that she doesn’t like denture adhesives, so she usually uses her finger to wipe out food that gets trapped in the gaps. Sometimes she’ll use a fork to try to scrape things out, which is not much better. I’ve asked her to go to the bathroom (only 10 feet away), where she could remove her dentures and rinse them thoroughly, but she refuses.

I love her so dearly, and yes, I know she may have a compulsion, but I’m to the point where I don’t think I can invite her for dinner anymore. She goes to the senior center for lunches during the week but doesn’t cook, and we like to make sure she gets healthful food over the weekend. (We send leftovers home with her.)

These years together in the latter part of her life should be treasured, but I’m being robbed of them, and I feel angry and guilty for not being able to tolerate her behavior.

She reads your column. Maybe you can get through to her and others about the inappropriateness of these things. Please remind us all of proper grooming habits for public and private places. — Wish She’d Stop

Dear Wish She’d Stop: As your mom ages, she may find it more challenging to complete simple tasks such as showering and brushing her teeth and hair. Very often, people in their 80s tire more easily or get cold or hot sooner than the rest of us. If they have dementia, a multistep task can feel overwhelming. What you are describing seems less like personal daily hygiene and more like completely inappropriate behavior that must be addressed. I’d suggest that you have her assessed for dementia. If this is new behavior, then it is pretty clear she has some form of mental deterioration that is causing her to act so inappropriately at the dinner table.

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