Monday, October 15, 2007


...may be good for the soul but it's often hell on the one who is asked to keep the secret. I'm not a priest. I'm not even Catholic. But I abide by the rules of what goes into my ears does not pass back through my lips, especially if the word "confidential" comes into the conversation.

Secret keeping is a tricky minefield that isn't listed under OSHA's Occupational Hazards guidelines.

I've recently discovered one of my senior citizens has Alzheimer's. No, not through a self confession. By accident. The discovery came by way of a telephoned confession by another senior, who'd accidentally unearthed the truth by simply remarking the lady in question was acting oddly. She was concerned because I am "in charge" and this condition has been present for 2 years...and we were all none the wiser. She asked for permission to share the secret with me so I could be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. But seniors are often forgetful. Sometimes they make ME forgetful, my mind often reeling with all their shared secrets and doctor appointments. It's hard to see a problem when the clues are the norm for their age group.

Sadly, this lady's husband died of a combination of medical problems and smack dab in the middle of them all was early onset Alzheimer's. But I've been seeing signs for a month now. Disturbing ones that made me wonder, "Didn't I just answer that question five minutes ago? Her usual aversion to loud people has evolved into sticking her fingers in her ears and telling people to shut up. Grumpy has turned into unexpected, angry outbursts. Last week a gentleman approached the lady to apologize for agitating her, even if he wasn't sure how merely talking to her had done so. She balled up her fist and hit him in the arm, huffing, "Don't talk to me!" If he was confused before, the right jab was an exclamation point he didn't comprehend.

From the looks of the witness' faces, he wasn't alone.

There comes a time when a secret kept can become dangerous. I contacted the nurse who's taken the group's blood pressure once a month...for the last 14 years. Her advice was to contact the family member I felt most comfortable with and ask how [hopefully] the family was handling it. Rather than chose one of her three daughters [a potential nightmare in itself beginning with, "Why did you pick HER instead of me?"] I choose a granddaughter who's a nurse. Good choice. She has this woman's POA. She listened politely as I rattled off, as kindly as possible, glaringly odd behavioral changes. The bad news was, the family hasn't really had that sit down talk that begins, "Mom, life is changing and so are you." The good news was knowing she was listening to what I had to say instead of labeling me as some nosy busybody. She agreed it was time for the family to have that uncomfortable sit down chat before someone got hurt.

This woman has driven several of us to bowling for seven years now. Her driving has become a little erratic of late, which we chalked up to her new vehicle. You know the feeling....brakes that are too touchy, jack rabbit starts until you comprehend how your new car works. With my new knowledge I will admit to reluctantly getting into the car last week for that ride. My poor guardian angel must be getting really tired at this point. The woman pulled out in front of a car but what scared me most was the inherent urge to speed up and get out of the way wasn't there. She commented on the car appearing out of nowhere and the gentleman in the front seat suggested we move out of it's way. She did...with the speed of a tortoise. Since then, I've been trying to decide how to suggest someone else drive without making her angry.

Tonight one of her daughters called to tell me they were keeping an eye on things. When she advised the family felt the woman was still okay to drive, I had to disagree. Politely, yet firmly. Daughter immediately dismissed the incident. The blame was placed on too many people talking in the car. I offered it was the second time in less than a month and shared a few more hair raising driving problems. The replies all came back to us being the problem: we're too noisy, too distracting. However, I was told in no uncertain terms that I would find a solution to the drive to the bowling alley which does not involve her mother...or the word Alzheimer's. Sigh.

I asked if the family had discussed anything with this woman. They still have not. Their misguided logic dictates that because they have not seen what I have, there is no reason to talk with her until a later date. I hope they don't get around to it too late. At the moment it appears that we who are witnessing a slow personality meltdown are wrong to notice.

I did not share that I'd talked to a granddaughter. Grown daughters do not appreciate it when you reach down to the next generation to discuss the health and welfare of their own mother. But the granddaughter understood when I called to ask for guidance that I wasn't being judgmental. No, I was requesting a road map to aid me on this journey.

The road ahead is tough. And a good secret keeper knows the difference in keeping a secret and withholding information in the face of impending disaster. The time has come to offer gently, "Don't you think it's my turn to play your chauffeur?"

If I do it right, maybe my arm will survive and I'll still be able to bowl.

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

I can empathize totally with your situation. One of the first things I noticed about my father-in-law when he developed alsheimers was the driving. He would go through stop signs and red lights, pull in front of other cars - when I would say something he would respond they should be watching out for him he didn't have to watch for them.

Since my husband's (now ex) siblings both lived in different states and rarely saw their dad they thought we were exaggerating his symptons.

Eventually he had to come live with us and we took away his car keys. He had become too dangerous to drive. The sibs argued every step of the way with us and when they did come for the occassional visit determined he was just forgetful but didn't have alzheimers even though he had been diagnosed by a doctor.

When we eventually had to bring in a nurse to help me they became angry at me feeling I should do it all and not spend their inheritance. Of course, neither of them could take him in or care for him...they didn't have the time.

When we finally had to put him in a nursing home they really became angry and I was called every name in the book. Of course, it was all my doing...

The marriage eventually ended and I blame his siblings for making me look like the wicked witch of the west for trying to help their dad, when they were too busy...even my ex dealt with it by working all the overtime he could and weekends, leaving me to deal with the problem.

So, I empathize with you trying to make the family see what is so obvious.

And yes!!! whatever you do do not let her drive least not the group because she is not living in reality and she will hurt more than herself one day.

Good luck my friend!!