Published in the Rains County Leader on January 31, 2017:
Last week at the Senior Center several of us had a conversation about knowing when it was time to take the keys away from aging parents. I suspected the time was growing near for Dad several years before I actually took the step. Riding with him became a test of nerves. He often became confused about where to turn or when to exit, and he would stop in the middle of the road while he tried to figure out where he was going. Sitting in a stopped vehicle in the middle of Hwy 635 tends to make a person think that maybe the time has come.
I was able to delay the decision for a while by arranging to always be available to drive when my parents needed to go anywhere. Still, there were a few incidents. One afternoon shortly before we left Texas for Florida, he left around noon to take Mom to the beauty salon and wasn’t heard from until 9:30 that night. Then, shortly after we settled into our new home in the Sunshine State, he and Mom decided to go out for a hamburger. They returned home an hour or so later without having found their way out of the subdivision. That was when I had no doubt it was time to take the keys – and it was not pretty.
As you might expect, the conversation at the Senior Center ended with each of us thinking about the time when someone would take our car keys. I had an experience this past weekend that made me think about it even more.
I have never had a good sense of direction, but I was pretty good with a Mapsco, and now I have Siri! As they say, though, garbage in, garbage out. Saturday I went to McKinney to visit with my long-time friend Mary. I had been to her home once before, I had her address, and I had my phone, so I was confident I would have no trouble arriving at 10:30 as promised.
At 9:00 o’clock, I adjusted the driver’s seat and mirrors – a standard practice since David sits almost in the back seat when he drives – and programmed the GPS on my phone. My route was simple – north on Hwy 69 and west on Hwy 380 until I reached her subdivision. I stopped in Greenville for gas which put me a little behind schedule, but what’s ten minutes between friends.
I was a little confused when Siri told me to turn off 380, because the intersection didn’t look familiar, but I’ve always been one to follow orders. I followed her directions straight to the address from my contact list, but something was wrong. Mary lives in a beautiful single story, three-bedroom home. She drives a KIA, and she has a golf cart for quick jaunts to her daughter’s home several blocks away. I, on the other hand, was sitting in front of a large, two-story home with a Jeep and a Suburban parked in the driveway. I dialed Mary’s number.
“Hey, Mary, what’s your address?”
She gave it to me, and we laughed when we realized I had driven to the home where she had lived with her daughter and son-in-law several years ago. When I entered her new address in my address book, I neglected to do the same in my phone. With the correct information programmed in, Siri and I set out again.
Remember what I said about garbage in? Well, apparently my short-term memory is not as good as it once was. Somewhere between Mary giving me the address and my putting it into the phone, the word “Brook” became “Court,” and I ended up on a cul-de-sac that was about ten miles from Mary’s home.
Third time was the charm, and I arrived at my intended destination over an hour late. Mary and I hugged and laughed, and she joked about how this country girl really needs to get out more often. We had a great visit and a delicious lunch, and then we said good-bye with promises that the next visit would be in Emory.
I had no troubled getting home – I know that address pretty well – but I’ve thought about the incident a lot since Saturday. Even though my problems were the result of bad information rather than memory loss – at least mostly – it was disconcerting not to know where I was for a little while. I think about Mom and Dad and the millions of other elderly people who live in a constant of not knowing, and I wonder what the future holds for the huge number of Baby Boomers now reaching their 60s and 70s. While I wonder, I pray for an effective treatment or a cure for memory issues, I pray for enough willing and able caregivers to meet the need – and I pray that when my time comes, I will give up my car keys without a fight.
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos