Q: Dear Regina, Thank you for taking my call last night. I wanted to report back to you regarding my dilemma last night. As you know, my dad has not driven since last December and for some reason he was fixated on driving and going to Castries. I have done everything I can think of that could distract and stall him and he was able to remember he wanted to go to Castries. I ran out of solutions and that is why I called. I didn’t want to upset my dad by telling him he can’t drive or he can’t go. My dad has always had control over his day and would not ever take me (his daughter) telling him he can’t do something.
Your suggestion to let him go and walk him to the car to say goodbye worked. He saw the flat tyres and reasoned himself that it was not a good idea and I assured him everything will be okay for now and we will fix that problem another time. He came back inside the house and never mentioned it again. That was scary at first.
A: I am glad it worked out. Many times they will not change their minds because some strong emotion is attached to the situation. It is best to address the emotional part of what they are wanting. In this case, he may have felt like he had important things to do and only he can do it. You were wise to not to argue with him about it.
Many times, when a loved one with dementia wants to go home and is persistent with leaving, you have to think quickly. Sometimes letting them go out the door and, if possible, walk with them. If this upsets them, then give them space to go and try not to let them know you are following them. See where they go and observe what they do. I have followed people several times to watch and observe how they manoeuvre about. Many times they come right back. Not always, though.
To my surprise, in one incident I followed a gentleman all the way to the store who wanted to shop for his own food. He grabbed a basket, picked out foods he liked and you can tell he was thinking while trying to make decisions on what he wanted. He went down every aisle and carefully chose what he wanted. Went to the check-out and to my surprise again he gave the correct amount of money to the cashier. He then took his groceries and trolley back home.
Now I conveniently started talking to him so I could help bring his food home. This was a good day for him. His need to do something that he has done for years was sparked and there was no reason why I would stop him. What I did notice was that he bought food he already had. So the next time he did this, I connected with him in the store so as he is putting food on the check-out, I would discretely put the duplicate foods in another basket for the workers to return to the aisles. Once it was all bagged up, he did not remember what he bought. Perfect! He got out of the house, went shopping and didn’t spend too much money. He has had an active day so far being “busy” with daily life. This is what people do. His dignity was preserved and everything worked out fine.
Now in the case he did not have money, this may have been embarrassing for him and I would have slipped the money under a bag to cover it if that was an option. The other option would be to tell the cashier on his behalf what a great man he was and would he/she kindly hold these back on the shelf and he will return to pay.
He is a worthy man. This would be a good moment to tell the cashier to take my number and hand him/her a card stating to “Please forgive us. The person I am with has dementia. We will resolve this as soon as possible.” The cashier is usually a kind person and will handle it well. It will look like you gave them your business card but it is a friendly information card that you can give to help others remain calm and understand better.
Many people with dementia need love and understanding from the public and business to help them remain independent as long as possible. Having them sit at home day in and day out will increase rapid deterioration. Helping a person with dementia live life as normal as possible will improve their quality of life. Let’s keep St. Lucia friendly.
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