An elderly lady walked into the store this morning. She asked if we have a phone book. I inquired who she needed to call, certain that I could look it up on my phone faster than I could locate that pesky phone book. She looked at me as if she was about to cry, and in a clear delicate voice, said “I don’t know. I have memory problems and don’t remember where I was going.” She turned around and walked out with a pained shuffle. Taken completely off guard by the situation, I let the other manager on duty know that I was going to go out to her car, make sure she was safe, and get her any help I could.
As I approached the window it was evident that she was crying. “Excuse me ma’am. What can I do to help you? Can I call your family?” Again, she didn’t know. She said she remembered that she was supposed to be going to an appointment but had no idea where. Wiping her tears, she said she had been calling the last number on her phone, but kept getting their answering machine. She handed me the phone and it was the automated pick a number menu at the start of most office calls. When in doubt select 0.
What do you say when you don’t know either party in an awkward three part conversation?? What do you say when you don’t want to further disgrace the elderly lady who is clearly already humiliated by her lapse of lucidity?? It went like this:
“Hi. My name is ____ and I’m calling from _____. I’m in the parking lot with Mrs._____ who is likely supposed to be at your office, or may already be late.” The receptionist recognized her name. “Mrs._____ is a bit confused on your location and what service you provide.”
The receptionist immediately understood.
I repeated the office location, and as soon as I said Food City Mrs. says “I know Food City. My doctor’s office is near there.” With the receptionist’s help, we got her back on track. The office called me back to let me know she had arrived. Had I not heard from the office, the next call would have been the police with a BOL for her vehicle between my location and the doctor (2 miles away). Throughout the day I considered the balance between the dignity of self sufficiency and acceptance of deficiency as it effects personal safety. As much as it hurts my heart, I hope that this is a wake up call for her and for whomever might care for her. Sweet Mrs. probably should not be unescorted in a moderately sized city, albeit one that is safer than many. This is how Grand-pa ends up in Minnesota with no recollection of how he got there. This is how people are taken advantage of, and the reason there is now a national Silver Alert for missing and endangered elders.
How hard is that day going to be? Will I feel my heart and will break? Or will I know when the day has arrived that I’m a danger to myself and others? I’d never seen it up close. Watching her frustration as her mind failed her, and yet was still present enough that she knew it was failing….that might be my new greatest fear.