Dementia, Unscripted Conversations, and How Much I Sweat

I had driven across Iowa on a hot and humid summer afternoon to give a presentation to staff at a memory care community. I couldn’t park close, so I had to walk for about five minutes to get to the building.

By the time I entered the lobby, I was sweating. Not sparkling or glowing or any of those other words women who don’t sweat much might use. I was sweating.

And I sweat a lot.

A friend of mine goes to a workout class with me and walks out looking refreshed. I walk out looking like I’ve been stranded on an tropical island for weeks and someone just rescued me…except I’m not that skinny. Ten minutes of exercise and my hair is drenched, my mascara is dripping down my cheeks, and my shirt looks like it’s just been pulled out of the washer.

I know there are medical conditions that cause excessive sweating, but I don’t have one of them. I’m just a woman who sweats a lot.

As I entered the memory care community on this particularly sweltering day, I saw a bench. I decided to sit for a minute and attempt to stop sweating before I walked in to do my presentation.

An older woman with a walker slowly made her way up to me. I greeted her, but she didn’t respond. She sat down next to me.

I figured she didn’t want to visit, so I pulled out my phone to check for messages.

Then she said, “You sweat more than the average girl, don’t you?”

I put my phone down. I hadn’t realized I was sweating quite that much. I told her that I did sweat a lot.

“It’s good. You get the bad stuff out faster so you can be a better person,” she explained.

I hadn’t heard that before, but I was intrigued. In fact, it was the most positive interpretation of extreme sweating that I had ever heard.

“Like toxins?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she said. “Like old boyfriends.”

“You sweat out old boyfriends?” I asked.

“Unless you want to keep them inside,” she answered.

I nodded. I certainly didn’t want to keep old boyfriends inside. I mean, let’s sweat those guys out and be done with them.

There was a short silence as I pictured tiny versions of my old boyfriends sitting on my skin until I wiped them off with a towel.

I asked her if she had sweated out all her old boyfriends.

She said, “No, I don’t sweat so much.”

Then she got up and shuffled on.

And somehow, I didn’t feel so self-conscious about sweating.

There’s something about this conversation that I love.

This woman didn’t introduce herself. She didn’t try to make small talk. She wasn’t commenting on the weather or complimenting my dress.

She went straight for my sweating.

Perhaps it wasn’t appropriate. Or maybe it wouldn’t be appropriate in most settings. Most of us understand that you shouldn’t go right up to someone and comment about what might be making them self-conscious in that moment.

But it’s par for the course when you sit down in the atrium of a memory care community.

If this woman hadn’t had dementia, we probably would’ve had some generic scripted conversation like “Hi. Hello. How are you? Good. And you? Fine. Isn’t it so hot out? When will it cool off?”

Sure, I’ve had lots of people with dementia make comments to me that aren’t kind.

A guy at a facility that I frequently visit often tells me I’m looking fat. Once a man with dementia told me my hair was scroungy like an alley cat.

I know that sometimes people with dementia lose their “filter” or social judgement as the condition progresses. This can mean hurt family members and awkward situations.

Yet, there is a part oft this departure from typical conversation that I enjoy.

When the person with dementia doesn’t follow the “social script,” I feel like I don’t have  to either. And there’s some barrier that breaks down.

A woman with dementia commented on my sweating. She didn’t ask me how I was or why I was visiting. She went straight for the sweating.

I didn’t expect that to come my way, but I leaned in. I didn’t just nod and smile. I wanted to engage.

And I got a reward. Now when I am sweating a lot I picture my old boyfriends squeezing out of my pores.

There’s something strangely fulfilling about that.

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “Dementia, Unscripted Conversations, and How Much I Sweat

  1. Love this story and it makes me feel much less self-conscious knowing that I too have started to lose my filter and say things that may not be socially correct. I notice that I make peoppe laugh a lot more than I ever have throughout my life abd actually quite like it!!!!!

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    1. But sometimes that social filter limits the authenticity of our conversations. Maybe you’re just becoming more authentic. And making people laugh is a great gift! Thanks for sharing this!

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  2. Years ago, I went to visit my uncle in the hospital. I walked into the room and he said, “How much do you weigh? You look fat.” I was stunned and muttered something like, “More than I probably should.” My aunt chastised him, but I realized then that he must have dementia. I ultimately learned that he had Alzheimer’s. I still look back on that moment and smile… As you say, no filters, no pleasantries, just out with it. ROFL here… Thanks for helping me revisit that memory!

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  3. Oh my gosh, I love this. And will remember it the next time I am all sweaty. (which is all the time) I think I’ll add other things to the boyfriend mix as well! Plus, I’m from Minnesota and this week is so dang humid.

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  4. That is absolutely awesome. Makes me feel a bit better about my boo boos. You are very kind and I hope there are many more of you. From a dementia diagnosed, thank you. I love reading your posts.

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    1. Thank YOU for sharing this. And please please don’t fret about what you call boo boos. I bet you’re just making conversations a bit more authentic and real. And that can be a positive thing.

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  5. I always love your posts, Elaine, but I really really LOVE this one. I’m a sweater too, and I don’t mean the knitted kind. I’ve just come inside to cool down after working outside on a sweltering day. I’m drenched. I love that old lady for telling it like it is.

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  6. Lovely post. Thanks for sharing that. Regarding your sweating, I think your brief friend was correct. I’m not a doctor, but I think while it may not feel ladylike to sweat a lot, it is truly healthier for exactly the reasons you mentioned. You are getting rid of toxins. I used to go to a lot of professional tennis matches and I noticed that the top pros were always drenched in no time. I attributed that to a well-developed personal cooling system. I think you are better off than you realize.

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