So there are more people on this unfortunate journey than I ever imagined. Some of my conversations today have led me to think back to the very beginning. Were there signs that we overlooked. Of course there were! Who wants to look at their parent and think they have dementia. I certainly did not want to see that in my dad.
Dad would drive to the village less than 3 miles from his house and when he returned home he would tell my mom that he could not remember where he was. My sister and I immediately said no more driving! But did we take the keys away. NOPE! Neither one of us wanted to take his keys away. So it must be a reaction to some medicine he was taking. We can alter his medicine and everything will be OK. Not exactly. My Mom said that he would only drive when she was in the car. Great, we are going to let him take the entire family out.
No one wants to take the keys away from a parent. Not only is it humiliating to my dad but we are thinking about the additional burden on us. My sister and I would not ride in the car with my dad and we would not let our children ride in the car with him, yet we were willing to put him in a car on the street where your children were playing! Not a great choice.
We slowly took away the opportunities for my dad to drive. The sitters drove to doctors appointments and we did the grocery shopping. We did hide his keys and we took my mom’s keys and put them out of his line of vision. Mom would spend “hours” looking for the keys that she knew were at my house. But this worked until we could come up with a better plan. This is how the lying began. The scary thing is we all got very good at lying. Good lies. Complex lies. So complex that we had a phone chain between me, my sister and my mom to keep the story going!
Bottom line. Take the keys away. Do it out of love. Do it out of fear but do it for your children and for ours.
The other early sign that we did not recognize occurred when we went out to dinner. My parents absolutely love to go out to dinner. They want drinks, crab claws, the fish special and maybe a shared dessert. So what changed?
Dad stopped ordering his usual meals. “I’ll just have what Thomas is having.” Problem was, Thomas was having salmon and dad doesn’t like salmon! It was only after hearing a speaker at the support group that we realized he could no longer read the menu. He could still read but a menu was too complicated. My parents still go out to dinner but my mom will talk about the things on the menu and often help him make a decision. You have to be careful. You do not want to appear to be reading him the menu. He is not a child. He is the head of the family and should still be treated with respect.
A few weeks ago we were given some great little cards to carry with us. These “business cards” explain that the person we are with suffers from dementia and may appear to be confused. These cards are from the Alzheimer’s Association but you could easily make them yourself. Remember not to talk about your family member as if they are not there. They are there. They hear you talk.
Do not focus on the disease or you will miss the person that is still there.