The Woman Who Wouldn't Sit Down.


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“She’ll sit down on couches, in a chair, wherever—but I cannot get her to sit down on the toilet!” one of our Resident Assistants, Brittany, sighed in our morning meeting. “Susannah gets really stiff and tries to hold her pants up,” she continued.

Susannah is incredibly pleasant, but she is also in a moderately advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease. She walks throughout the community during the day, picking up objects, putting them down, and using small, sweet phrases to speak. 

About an hour later, Brittany and I stood in Susannah’s bathroom. I was intrigued by this problem and wanted to solve it.

Thinking that Susannah was feeling uncomfortable having her pants down in front of another person, I had her hold a towel in front of her legs while I reached for her pants. “Hmmmm, yep, that’s that,” she said, gripping her pants. I then tried another technique and handed Susannah her favorite baby doll. “Ohh, hello,” she cooed at the doll.

This time, she let me take her pants down to her ankles while she “watched” the baby.

Brittany and I then asked her to sit down on the toilet. Susannah stiffened like a wooden board. “Do you want to sit down?” I asked her. “Hmmm, look at this,” she said, misunderstanding the question, pointing to the baby. Then she said, “There’s a hole.”

This statement confused me at first. A hole? I thought. I looked at the toilet and remembered Brittany’s first statement, she’ll sit on chairs, couches…

I grabbed a bright blue towel from the bathroom wall and laid it over the toilet seat. “Hey, Susannah, sit down here,” I said gently. “Oh, okay,” she agreed, and sat down.

After she sat down on the new blue seat, Brittany and I gently lifted her slightly and quickly slid the towel out from under her. It was not the modesty that was upsetting her: it was the toilet itself. She was afraid of falling into the toilet bowl.

Susannah went to the bathroom using the towel method twice that day without any problems.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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