Candor in Dementialand (aka Notes on Whether My Hair is Scroungy like an Alley Cat)

I sometimes struggle with apathy when making decisions about the big things in life–like my hair. It used to be closer to chin length and now it’s shoulder length.

I’ve asked a few friends if they like it better shorter or longer and no one gives me a straight answer. They say things like, “Oh, it looks good both ways.” They are being nice…I get that. But sometimes I want honesty.

Fortunately, I work with people who have dementia. I was at a Memory Trunks program last week when a gentleman with vascular dementia asked me, “Is your hair longer these days?”

“Yeah,” I responded. “I don’t know if I should be growing it out or keeping it shorter.” He interrupts.

“Cut it. Cut it. Cut it,” he says. “It looks scroungy and there’s no point.” An honest opinion. He looks me right in the eye. For effect, he adds, “SCROUNGY. And pointless.”

I can tell this makes the staff uncomfortable. An employee steps in and says, “You have such pretty hair. It looks great longer or shorter.” But they don’t need to worry. I enjoy the honesty.

I later told my friend Holly that someone with dementia said my hair was scroungy. She told me that I am the least scroungy-looking person she knows. When I told another friend, Jen, she said, “Scroungy? Like an alley cat?” Yeah, maybe.

I’ve been told that I’ve put on weight (truth….). I’ve been asked why I was wearing combat boots (In fact, they were $150 boots I had saved to splurge on). It’s been suggested that I wear lipstick–because men like women who wear lipstick. I’ve been told my voice is annoying.

And I should point out that none of these comments from people with dementia were mean-spirited. They were simply honest observations.

I have to admit that in life there are times that we shouldn’t be completely honest. Sometimes honestly is hurtful. But I think a little honestly is refreshing sometimes. And sometimes I have to credit people with dementia for making sure I don’t take myself too seriously.

A few months back, I gave a presentation on dementia to a small group of professional woman in the morning. I had been in a rush and grabbed piece of toast with peanut butter to eat in the car on the way there. I gave the presentation and thought it went pretty well. Next I went to do some programming for people with dementia at an assisted living. I sat down in a chair and greeted them.

“Good morning,” I said. “My name is Elaine.”

“Elaine,” said a tiny woman sitting several feet to my left in a wheelchair. “You have peanut butter on your breast.”

I looked down, and sure enough there was a huge glob of peanut butter on my shirt. Keep in mind that I had already spoken to a group of 20 women that morning. I am positive that at least ten of those women had to have noticed the giant mass on peanut butter stuck to my shirt. No one mentioned it. I’m assuming they thought it would be awkward and didn’t want to embarrass me, but someone pointed it out within three minutes of my arrival at an assisted living.

They don’t care that I have a PhD. My credentials mean nothing to them, and that’s as it should be. To them, I’m not Dr. Eshbaugh. I’m just a woman with scroungy hair and peanut butter on her shirt. And there’s something about this that I really like.

The day after I was told I have scroungy hair, I made a hair appointment. I didn’t get it all cut off, but I did get it texturized and have some layers cut around my face. I’m hoping I look less like an alley cat.

4 thoughts on “Candor in Dementialand (aka Notes on Whether My Hair is Scroungy like an Alley Cat)

  1. I have really enjoyed reading your blog. This post came on the same day that I heard my mother-in-law tell the speech pathologist that her hair was “so beautiful” and tell another nurse that everyone at this place has a “big bottom”. She always tells me that I look “so tired”.

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    1. Carol–It’s great to hear from you! And I actually was inspired to start wearing concealer a few years ago by a few ladies with dementia who were always asking how much sleep I got. I told Drew this as well, but don’t hesitate to contact me directly if I might be able to help you. She has my email address!

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  2. I’ve had residents comment on my hair too. When my hair was longer and curlier I was told I needed to comb it. I told the lady I had combed it but I don’t think she believed me. 🙂

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