Just today, I was driving home when I saw an elder-woman walking on the side of a rather busy road. Cars go at least 40 and sometimes 60 mph. on this road. She had no business walking there alone. My husband and I turned around and I got out to greet her.
“Hello, I’m Carol and I live nearby–are you lost?” I asked, trying not to appear threatening.
“Oh no, I’m not lost. I’m walking to meet my daughter.” Her sharp blue eyes smiled back at me and I thought of my mom and suddenly missed her.
“Where’s your daughter?” I asked. (We live several miles from the nearest shopping district)
“Out shopping. I was hoping I’d see her drive by.”
I asked her where she lived and she said she was visiting from up north but that her daughter lived “back there, behind that gate.” (She must have slipped out of the neighborhood when a car drive through the gate).
I offered to take her home. She got in our car (scary, huh?) We carried on a pleasant conversation. She pointed to her daughter’s house, told me what state and city she lived in up north, and other clear-headed facts.
She was mentally sharp, but she wasn’t making good decisions–her reasoning skills weren’t quite right.
She couldn’t understand that she was at least 2 miles from her daughter’s neighborhood, walking alongside a busy road, and that she really shouldn’t be trying to find her daughter this way–nor is it wise to get in the car with strangers, even though I’m very glad she did, in this particular case.
I didn’t think “oh bad daughter!” Not at all. I had a mom who insisted she was going to catch a taxi and go to her home. I had no idea how she could even remember the word, taxi, or what it meant but she did. It took me and my husband and children to keep an eye on her–she was determined to escape!
I took her home. Her daughter drove up within minutes. She had been out looking for her. I left concerned. It’s so so hard to watch someone all the time and never get a break. Her mom was such a vibrant woman, it would be a challenge to keep her from not wanting to strike out on her own–not realizing the dangers she was exposing herself to.
There comes a time when our elders are still smart, together people–great conversationalists and even pretty efficient in their every day lives–but there comes a time when they might not be making the safest decisions, and that might begin to present itself when they’re out of their routine, or when they’re with someone else who isn’t filling in the gaps for them. They can even keep their act together around their kids–because they don’t want to have to move out of their home.
Is this the beginnings of demantia or Alzheimer’s–or is this simply a natural decline of our mental faculties?
That answer is different for each person, but as a caregiver, a daughter, a son, or other family member, we must be diligent in our care for our elders. They can “fool” us, not meaning to. They’re so smart and funny and together–and we need them to be so our world can continue “as is” –and it’s so easy to overlook subtle warnings signs and the beginnings of those unsaid concerns, and that’s when something can happen.
Cognitive and reasoning skills change over time–for all of us.
Yes, it’s wise to get an ID bracelet, to show their names and contact info into their clothing and write it with a sharpie on their shoe or hat, but nothing takes the place of being aware of where your elders are just as mom has to know where her children are.
In Florida, we have the Silver Alert -a system that announces when an elder is lost or wandering and treats it much like a missing child and the Amber Alert system that alerts the authorities and posting it on the news and highways. This program has saved many lifes.
It’s our awareness that keeps our loved ones safe–and sometimes even that’s not enough.