Who is looking out for them?


Not too terribly long ago I stopped by a dry cleaning store for my work. As soon as I stepped ¬†through the glass door, I knew that something was amiss. I could see the older woman, with her back to me, was disheveled and was speaking too loud and with too much animation. I could see the fear and uncertainty in the woman behind the counters’ eyes. Both looked up as I walked in. No one else occupied the tiny reception area.

As I waited my turn, it became apparent to me that the customer speaking to the cashier was suffering some form of dementia. The longer I stood there and listened, the more upset I became. The worker was completely lost as to what she should do and what to say. The older woman was claiming her son had been abusing her, her husband abused her, she eventually started telling us about her childhood and her father, who was a pastor, and how he had treated her so well and how much she missed him. We listened and and listened for almost 30 minutes. As I was listening I was trying to figure out what to do. I needed to be home to take Frances to practice and I needed to finish work for the day. But I couldn’t move. I was unable to leave.

The pain, the heartache and the absolute desire to help this woman instantly kicked in. I took over the conversation from the lady behind the counter. My new friend and I held hands and went back and forth. She was all over the place in her thoughts. Moving rapidly from present day to conjuring memories of a life she hadn’t lived in decades.

I surprised myself with the compassion and a sense of protectiveness for this complete stranger. Throughout the ordeal, I found out the police had already been summoned and no one answered when her home was called. I was allowed to look in her purse to try to find an address or another phone number. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. It was so frustrating to try to help her and not have any way to do it.

Eventually the police showed up and they did a wonderful job talking to her and helping her. They sent someone to her home. No one was there. Eventually they tracked down her son. The one she had claimed slept on the couch all day, didn’t work and didn’t feed her. I had been doubting her story. Then when he drove up, he didn’t speak to her. He walked into the store and didn’t even announce who he was and why he was there. There was no concern for his mom. There was no thanks to us for helping. It was the strangest and saddest thing.

We walked to his car. Filth. Everywhere. The back seat and much of the front was covered with stuff. Lots of stuff. There was barely room for her to sit. I hated letting her leave. I did however make sure I let him know that she needed help. I told him she needed a bracelet to wear that had her information on it. I told him he needed to keep an eye on her and take her to the doctor. He completely ignored me. Which made me even madder.

I have thought many times about the woman at the dry cleaning store. She taught me so much. One important reminder was to have patience with Jim. At the time, I had been having a really difficult time with our situation and I had been losing patience with Jim and the kids. With her, I had plenty of empathy and understanding. There was no anger. Why could I be there for her, but not for my own husband? Something about this was unsettling.

I have also thought about the fact that people are charged with child abuse and neglect if they don’t take care of their children. If a child had wandered away and been found miles from home, making accusations of abuse, there would have been an investigation. ¬†If a dog is found abused and not taken care of, the owner is charged with animal cruelty. Yet, an older adult can be just as lost as a child or a dog and the people in their life that should be watching out for them have little consequences. If they don’t take the necessary precautions to keep the afflicted safe, who will know? Yes, there are some cases of elder abuse. Those few charges usually take a very long time to prove and it takes a lot of documentation and a lot of abuse to happen first. Why? If someone has the mental capabilities of a child, why aren’t they protected like a child?

Immediately after this episode, I decided Jim needed a Medic Alert bracelet that will have a way to help him or someone that finds him get in touch with me should he become lost. He isn’t at this stage, but I would rather be prepared sooner rather than later.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (9)

9 Responses to “Who is looking out for them?”

  1. Elizabeth Brewer says:

    Bravo! I still remember finding a tattered piece of paper in my Dad’s wallet after he died. It said “My name is….I live at ….My phone number is…. He had even asked me to get a brass plate for his cane so he could put his name on it. I didn’t realise what was wrong then, but HE did. The fear still makes me so sad. This story of your caring and the continual caring to be one step ahead for Jim warms my heart. You are in my thoughts as a family. keep strong. it isn’t easy, I know, but I DO know that even when Dad’s mind was gone, he never once failed to respond to “Daddy” or “Gramp”. I don’t think he knew us but that was something special to him.

  2. Glenda Miller says:

    Beautifully written, as always.
    Interestingly enough, that was one of the first things Scott wanted was the MedicAlert dog tags. He thought that would help him get accustomed to them before he really needed them. He’s pretty good about wearing them, but now I’m thinking something he will not be able to take off so easily. So difficult to know how to be prepared for all this stuff.
    Hang in there Karen, we’re all in this together!

  3. Shirley Sehar says:

    Karen, another suggestion is to get one for you as well. We have matching bracelets so that if something happens to me, they know to look for him or to contact my daughter to go check on him! This encouraged Wayne to wear the bracelet as well. Now that we are at that stage, he doesn’t even realize he is wearing it!
    The other suggestion I can give is when time comes to give up driving, I approached it when he could understand, That if he drove and had an accident, if they found he had Alz. and we let him drive, they could sue us for everything we had! I also have a new car for us, one that he hasn’t driven. That way when we go places there is no question of him driving my car because he doesn’t have the keys! Drive now when you go out together, so he becomes used to it! Just some suggestions! Thanks for all you do!

  4. Marsha Carpenter says:

    Incredible story. My husband is now at one of the better nursing homes as I can no longer lift him or get him off the toilet or into bed. I live at the nursing home. The aids are great, as are the nurses, but they are terribly understaffed. And as his advocate my son and I are there – either together or alone until he sleeps at night. They took off his MedAlert necklace as some patients try to hurt aids wearing it. My phone number is everywhere. Every night at dinner I see family members come in and help feed their loved ones & look for problems. It is so sad to think that some are not cared for and I feel your heartbreak. At the nursing home I am getting to know every patient & help whenever I can – some have no family or reluctant families. Like cancer & other diseases they somehow think that they will “catch it” if they show up.
    If I had to walk every day I would get there. Taking the time to listen to that woman was a gift you gave, perhaps one of the few she will have. Peace.

  5. Laura says:

    Once again, I thought it. You said it. I have more patience with others than I do my own mother. I don’t know if it’s because I’m not emotionally involved with others or what it is.
    Good thing Jim will start wearing an I.D. now. When my mother got her first bracelet, she tore at it constantly until it finally came off. Now she has a metal one that is nearly impossible to remove.

    Maybe that poor son heard what you said…he might have been terribly embarrassed and did not know what to say or do at the time.

    I recently had a very embarrassing moment with my mom in a parking lot. She started screaming “HELP!” and other things. Needless to say, several eyebrows were raised and I politely told the onlookers that she had Alzheimer’s. The last onlooker jumped out of her car to help me. She was my angel that day…and she has no idea how much I think of her kindness. We were in such a rush, I couldn’t even thank her.
    God bless you!

  6. Beautifully written as always, and what a sad and touching story.

  7. I should also say that my mom eloped twice from the first AL facility she was in – despite wearing a wander guard. Twice she was found roaming (on a very busy road near the facility) by complete strangers who took care to see she was returned safely. I never had the chance to meet or thank either one of them, but I was so very grateful for their kindness. Both times, the story’s ending could have been tragic…

  8. Rose says:

    Your story was so familiar. I received a call from the police department under similar circumstances. I had tried for years to get her doctor to give her a diagnosis and he refused until that day when the police got involved. In our situation, I moved in with my mom the same day. She has not been alone once since then, 4 years and three months ago. I would love to have more information from Shirley on how you what information you put on the matching ID bracelets. That is a very good idea and I would like to do that as well. Could you let me know where you ordered the matching bracelets and what information you included.

    Thank you Karen so the story today. Very moving. And thank you for friending this woman. It is possible the guy with all the stuff in his car was simply overwhelmed as to how she managed to arrive at the dry cleaners. It is possible his car was full because of the overwhelming nature of this caregiving task. I know I myself feel disheveled at time however at the same time my mom is always put together, clean, well fed, and happy. I will hope this was the case with this son too.

  9. Gail S. says:

    Thank you for sharing. What a wonderful thing you did for that lady. With the disease one really learns patience – which is so hard at times. A medic alert bracelet is a good idea. I will need to look into this. Again, thank you for your posts.

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