photography of baby on bathtub
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When my mother-in-law was in the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, she attended her son’s out-of-state wedding out of state.  One evening while family and guests were gathered at the house, she decided it was time for bed and began to disrobe.  Unfortunately, it was in the living room in front of everyone.  Some family member jumped to the rescue taking her to the bedroom.

Modesty and inhibition are a function of the frontal lobe of the brain.  When the Alzheimer’s disease progresses to that area of the brain, typical modesty may disappear.  When I moved my mother from the Midwest to Florida by train, we had a private handicap room.

One evening at bedtime, my modest mother began to undress without closing the blinds.  I told her I’d shut them for privacy.  She replied, “I don’t care who sees me naked.”  In fact, she didn’t care because that part of her brain was damaged.  It was my responsibility to be modest for her.  Dementia patients may exhibit strange behavior such as undressing in public but may also exhibit socially unacceptable sexual behavior.

William lives at the assisted living facility my mother visits.  One day he approached her and told her she was beautiful.  The staff says William flirts with all the women, patients and staff.  I doubt the playboy was forward while healthy but now he doesn’t have the “filter” he once had to limit his behavior.  Unusual sexual behavior sometimes occurs with Alzheimer patients, and some even masturbate in public.

My mother hasn’t exhibited bizarre sexual behavior, but she doesn’t have much modesty.  That’s fortunate for me as I now bath and dress her since she had a fall and dislocated a shoulder.  Now unable to lift her arm much I must help her.    The first time I helped her with her bath and dress was quite uncomfortable for me but not at all for her.

I remember as a child of about four or five years old our family was camping out of state.  My mother took me by the hand to the public restroom.  When she instructed me to enter the men’s room alone, I balked.  I’d been in men’s rooms before but always with my father or older brother; I was afraid to enter alone.  However, when she offered to take me into the women’s restroom, I resisted as I was too embarrassed.   Though I’d never been embarrassed before, at that moment, I was frozen.   Several women smiled and sympathized with my mother as I struggled with my decision.  I finally mustered enough courage to enter the men’s room by myself for the first time.  Like learning to walk and talk, I crossed a developmental milestone.  It may be a natural occurrence as the brain develops or it may be a learned behavior.  But modesty is one of many developmental steps we acquire as a child and seem to lose with dementia.

The eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau said, “Although modesty is natural to man, it is not natural to children.  Modesty only begins with the knowledge of evil.”

It is written in Genesis 2:25 about Adam and Eve, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”  (NASB).  A few verses later Adam and Eve realize they were naked, clothed themselves with fig leaves, and hid from God.  In verse 3:11 God asks, “Who told you that you were naked?”

Modesty is a debatable topic.  Some think modesty is prudish while others find it appropriate.  I suppose it’s a matter of perspective.  Rousseau also said, “Whoever blushes is already guilty.  True innocence is ashamed of nothing.”

Children are not modest until their frontal lobe develops the trait.  As the brain reverses its developmental process with dementia, the patient becomes more childlike in many ways including modesty.  We protect our dementia impaired loved-ones but shouldn’t be ashamed of them or for them, they are as innocent as children.


© Copyright 2018 Ronald Milburn

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