The Shirt Struggle


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Cassandra was sitting in the dining room in her wheelchair, getting angry at one of our caregivers. “Cassandra, please give me your shirt so we can put it back on you,” the caregiver pleaded, offering her hand for the shirt.

Cassandra had begun disrobing in the dining room. “No, no, no!” Cassandra yelled as the caregiver tried to assist her with the shirt she was holding.

In only a bra, the resident sat, arguing with the caregiver about whether or not to put the shirt back on. She didn’t want to leave the spot, and she did not want to hand the shirt over for assistance.

I walked up and calmly kneeled down beside Cassandra’s wheelchair. “Hey, Cassandra,” I greeted her. “Your daughter wanted me to get your shirt, can you help me fold it for her?” 

She paused, calming instantly with a new approach. “Oh, my daughter,” she smiled. “Sure, here it is,” the resident said, helping me to fold the article of clothing. “Let me help you with it,” I offered, taking the shirt from her hands.

Instinctively, Cassandra folded her arms around her torso. It wasn’t warm in the dining room.

“Here, I’m going to help you put this shirt back on so it will keep you warm,” I suggested. 

“Okay,” Cassandra said, now calm, allowing me to put the shirt on her.

“What…just…happened?” our care aid asked.

“Just a different approach!” I smiled.

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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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