But I Already Have My Lipstick On:  Our story of dealing with Alzheimers

Chapter Five

After our Wyoming trip, we decided, with input from other family members (Emma is in the medical professional field) that it would be appropriate if Belle visited with a medical professional regarding her memory issues and behavioral changes.  Belle had a professional relationship with the internist she and Jim had gone to for years, as had several other relatives and that was well known to the family.  We strongly suggested she go visit him and allow Scott to accompany her.  She agreed.

At the visit, the behavioral changes, including short term memory difficulties, were discussed by both Belle and Scott.  The doctor asked a few perfunctory questions of Belle to determine her memory level.  Although her ability to answer the basic questions was not perfect (some of the questions the doctor did not know if her answer was correct, like – what did you have for lunch?) and no further tests were completed, it was determined that all was fine and that the symptoms we were witnessing were normal aging and most likely stress related.  We were doubtful, but relieved.  This was normal aging and nothing to be concerned about.  A doctor with a history with Belle said so.  We had no real reason to be concerned.

Within a month of that doctor visit, Belle had received an invitation to attend a distant relative family reunion, a branch of her mother’s family she had lost touch with. Belle loved researching genealogy and this reunion would be a great way of doing that along with reconnecting with her relatives.  It was a 4 hour drive away and she wanted to attend although she was concerned (so were we) about her making this trip on her own.  With our relief fresh from the doctor’s mouth, Belle, Scott and I discussed the situation and came up with a plan.  Belle would go and Deacon would go with her.  Although only 12 years old, Deacon knew how to drive (thanks to Jim) and could, if an emergency arose, help out.  He was also a good navigator, so he could assist with a map, in case she became confused.  And lastly, Belle and Deacon would take her newly purchased mobile phone with them, a new fangled devise Belle had trouble with but that Deacon, a child of the electronic age, could use with ease.  The mobile phone would give them a method to stay in touch and was an excellent emergency measure.  Deacon agreed to go along.  We discussed with Deacon what we expected of him and he was well aware, after the Wyoming trip, of some of a Belle’s shortcomings of late.  We stressed how important it was for him to check in with us and to assist Belle “Granny” as he called her, if she became confused.  Scott had Belle’s car checked out and all plans were finalized.  We saw them off on the adventure on a Friday morning.

By Sunday afternoon, when we had not heard anything from them, we doubted our decision. Scott tried calling the mobile phone several times, with no success. He then started a calling campaign to track down the long lost relatives they had gone to visit.  Although we had a few home phone numbers gathered before the trip in case of emergency, no one was answering.  In the days before wide mobile/cell phone usage, if someone wasn’t home, they were not able to be contacted by phone and it might be difficult to track them down.  After an afternoon of calling, talking with distant relatives he had not met, Scott finally located a relative that had seen Belle and Deacon at the reunion.  All had been okay and they had headed home a few hours before.  We were awash with relief.  Later that night, the wanderers arrived home. Everything had gone well, according to Belle.  She had had a good time and felt vindicated that all our worry about her abilities was unfounded.

After leaving Belle, we debriefed Deacon, who knew from the moment they arrived that something was wrong by our concerned faces.  Scott asked why he had not called and checked in as required.  He said that they had no sooner pulled out of the driveway, when Granny told him to turn the phone off to save the battery and she had not allowed him to turn it back on at any time during the trip, as no emergency had occurred.  They had gotten lost once and Deacon had navigated them back to the correct road.  So although we thought we had impressed upon Deacon his inclusion in the trip was to be the adult with all mental abilities intact, the adult by age overruled him.  She was his Granny and in charge. Although he was, at the time, functioning at a higher ability and memory level, by age he was still the kid and followed the adult’s instructions.   Part of his debriefing including his impression of how his Granny was not as sure of herself while driving as she always had been in the past.  (This situation is a good example of the dilemma most children of Alzheimer’s patients encounter, especially during the early stages.  When the person with diminishing abilities and recall is in charge or is the authority figure, how does the caregiver exert authority?  In my experience, there is no answer to this question and it is difficult for both parties to the situation.)