We were at a Labor Day cook out this summer and one of my neighbors suggested getting some type of an ID bracelet or necklace for my Mom. She recounted the tale of getting the all too frightening call from the Sheriff's office while she was at work. Her Mom, also an Alzheimer's victim, took a walk one afternoon and couldn't find her way home. In this day and age no one neighbor could definitively identify the older woman, nor did they know the full name of her daughter, but several of them pulled together enough facts to help the Sheriff's department identify the hospital where the daughter worked. The deputy called human resources and asked how many of their nurses lived in this particular city and had a mother suffering from dementia. Luckily, the correct contact information was retrieved and mother and daughter were safely reunited.
I had two immediate responses to the story -- great idea and... my Mom is so lazy, she'd never get up off the couch to go for the walk in the first place. I routinely leave her home for an hour or two while I ride or run to the grocery store. She's literally in the exact same position as I left her when I get home. Even though she won't admit to her age, there are certain things about retirement she takes quite seriously. Lounging tops the list. (Just so I don't seem too reckless, I leave her with the phone and call periodically to check in on her.)
Nonetheless, I went on line the very next day to order some type of ID. Instinct yelped that it was a really good idea. The problem was, once it came down to actually placing the order, I waffled. We never got my Mom one of those emergency alert necklaces because she'd surely keep forgetting its purpose, play with it and accidentally alert emergency crews hourly until they'd discontinue the service. Keeping a necklace or bracelet in place didn't seem any more viable. So, I put the order on hold while I tried to concoct a solution.
Up until that point I had only lost her twice. If you could even use the term "lost". Once I was leading the front of a shopping cart at Kohl's while she pushed. I went to turn the corner and glanced back to see she was no longer at the helm. She had stopped to look at an outfit 100-feet back and I ambled along at her usual pace never noticing she wasn't with me. On the next occurrence I did the exact same thing, this time with her walker. We were at a county fair. She had stopped to oogle at a baby and I kept right on going with the cart. This time I had an audience, a long line of people waiting to buy corn dogs. A roar of laughter led me to turn around to once again notice she was missing. It turned out the crowd was laughing at me. Or rather at us, she played the whole deal up with theatrics, waving and yelling "Here I am! Over here!"
The latest incident wasn't so funny. I went for a very short errand and as I pulled up the boulevard heading toward home I saw a group of women gathered down the street on the sidewalk. I noticed one had on the exact sweatsuit my Mom had on earlier that day. I zeroed in a little closer and realized ... it was my Mom! Here's the crazy part, I didn't panic, not yet. She was laughing and interacting with the women and it took me back. She looked just like my very social Mom from 20 years ago. It was actually really touching. Then I noticed the looks on the other women's faces. Different story. Complete distress. I squealed the car up to the curb rolled down the window and playfully yelled "What are you doing all the way down here?!" My approach was to keep the mood light. Next I noticed the huge expanse of pavement that woman covered to reach that spot on the sidewalk (strange what the mind observes even during a would-be traumatic situation.) I was really impressed. She made it almost 2 city blocks and without her walker! Then I looked back at the stretch of cement and almost passed out. She also did it, thank God, without a fall. I can only credit Guardian Angels. There's no way she should have made it that far without falling and cracking her head open or breaking half the bones in her little frail body. Shaking like a leaf now, I jumped out of the car and raced to her aid. The delayed concern was too much (or far too little) for one of the woman. She began questioning who I was and told me I'd have to wait for the Sheriff's department. They'd probably want to question me, she said. In other words she was accusing me of being a bad mom and not ready to put my Mom back in my custody quite so easily.
Turns out the sheriff deputy's were great and my friends and family even better. My sister reminded me of the time she received a 6:40 am doorbell wake up call. A school bus driver asked if the 2-year-old standing on the porch was her daughter. My niece had unlocked the deadbolt and regular lock all on her own and went out for an early morning stroll.
I really appreciated the support, but the heebie jeebies over the escape grew throughout the night. The next morning I hit Babies R Us and bought childproof door locks and a baby gate. We're now on lock down. If I go out, my Mom's either left with a caregiver or back to riding shot gun. And even that level of supervision isn't always good enough these days.
The credit (I'm trying to keep it positive) goes to the adult day care program. Now that she attends regularly, she has a whole new level of energy. On the flip side, her brain hasn't quite figured out how to channel the increased level of stimulation. Particularly on the days she attends the center, she becomes an outright jumping bean and I have my hands full. She literally can't sit still.
She really seems to enjoy occasional trips to the barn, so I thought we could keep those on the agenda. Maybe not. With her new found energy, she began getting out of the car to come out to the ring to be part of the action. I tried explaining that she didn't like the smell of horses, that it was dangerous and reminded her that she had always enjoyed just watching, she really wasn't ready to actually ride. Then, in case she didn't understand my logic, I took matters into my own hands and followed the brilliant advice of a good friend. I began placing her in the back seat.
I told her it was like a limo -- lots of room, an armrest for her drink and treats, even a reclining seat back. The truth was, it had childproof locks. They worked great, once or twice. Until she decided to crawl out the window. She was quite a Tom Boy as a kid. Luckily, the alarm sounded and I ran over before she had much more than her head poking out the window. She said she just wanted to say "hi." Satisfied with a little attention, she went back to reading and I went back to my horse. Ten minutes later the alarm sounded again. I ran back over and couldn't believe my eyes. She evidently remembered the window trick didn't work, this time she was heading out the sunroof! She was standing, or should I say teetering, on the back seat, reaching her right foot toward the center console, where I surmised she planned to hoist her bony body up and out the sunroof. (Or, in an even scarier scenario, we aren't positive she wasn't trying to slide into the driver's seat.) Either way, she was on the move and I once again found myself with visions of her cracking her head open. Even when I reached her side, she was far from being in the clear from serious injury. Easing her back down into the seat safely was no easy task. It's a 3-foot drop from the top of the console to the floor of the back seat. She's far from stable.
It was time to pack it in. I was a little frustrated, but held no serious hard feelings. I wasn't trying to ride at any cost. Up until this point, she really had enjoyed coming to the barn as a spectator sport. Now that I think about it, my once super active Mom has been reduced to mere spectator status in general since dementia crawled into her life almost 10 years ago. How cool that she now wants to go back to participating. The problem is going to be finding the right time and place. I don't want to encourage any more great escapes. I'm already making sure she has plenty of activities of her own to keep her busy and when I need my own escape from the burdens of caregiving, I pledge to find a SAFE way to keep her occupied.