I got back into town last night from a business trip and stopped to visit my father and his dog. As we chatted, Dad talked about his visit that day to the nursing home to see Mom. He told me he almost hadn’t recognized Mom because her hair was fixed in braids that were pulled back into a ponytail. That hairstyle wasn’t one that Mom would have worn previously, and Dad spent some time getting used to Mom’s new look.
Dad’s story made me think about how the perceptions of caregivers can play out, especially in how they contribute to the physical appearance of those who have dementia. When visiting Mom now, we never know whether she’ll have her nails polished or her hair done in a different do. Not that that’s bad; it’s just a surprise because that’s not who my mother was prior to Alzheimer’s disease.
Prior to her diagnosis, I would have described Mom’s style as tailored, but low-maintenance. She rarely wore make-up or jewelry, and maintained a fairly classic haircut that she might curl at times, but often wore straight. Now, it seems at times that the nursing home staff members have fun dressing up Mom’s look (and I think Mom enjoys the attention of having someone working on her nails or her hair).
Probably the best example was back in December for the nursing home’s holiday dinner. As Dad and I headed into the nursing home, we continually were stopped by several members of the staff. “Have you seen Mrs. Martin?” each asked in awe. As we approached the table where Mom was seated, I almost didn’t recognize her. Mom’s hair was done up in a chignon with a spray of silk flowers for adornment. Her eyelids were tinted a dusty purple and her checks were flushed thanks to a dusting of blush. Mom looked wonderful!
We kept complimenting Mom on her new look and she looked puzzled, “What do I look like?” she asked. So when the dinner was over, I pushed her wheelchair back to a mirror located on the wall. Mom looked carefully at her self and smiled. And as I wheeled her back to her room, Mom was stopped by several nursing staff members, who told her she looked beautiful. With a warm thank you to each, Mom enjoyed her moment in the spotlight. And we have some caring staff members (and volunteers) to thank for a beauty makeover that reflected the best that Mom could be in that particular moment.