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Pagosa Springs
Friday, July 23, 2021

Dementia is a sad ailment

By Gregg Heid
PREVIEW Columnist

She walked alone down the middle of the road. I drove past her slowly. Her eyes and countenance yelled at me — “I’m lost and confused.”

My wife, Vicky, and I were coming home late and hungry, but we turned around in the next driveway and went back.

I saw her walk into a shopping center parking lot. I pulled up beside her and rolled down the window. Vicky asked, “Do you need a ride?”

“Yes, that would be nice. I’m sorta lost,” she said with a faint chuckle.

Vicky opened the door for her and climbed in the back seat.

The lady sat in the front seat next to me. “Where are you going?”

“Home, my house is around here, I just can’t remember the street.”

I asked the lady her name and told her it was nice to meet her.

“What’s the address?” I asked.

She gave me an address.

“I think it’s up that way.” She pointed toward a nearby road.

I turned around and drove back past a care facility thinking that’s where she came from. “Is that it?”

“No, it’s more that way, towards that main road.”

I drove her up one street then another, out to the highway, then back along another road. All the while, she kept telling us how nice we were to pick her up and thanking us for the ride.

By now, we both realized she had dementia. In fact, she reminded me of my mother, thin and petite. Mom would go back and forth between the here and now and the past. Vicky and I visited my mother many times at the nursing home in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

On one visit, after 15 minutes in Mom’s room, we took her to lunch. Vicky pushed the wheel chair and I walked beside her toward the cafeteria. 

“How’s Vicky?” she asked. “I haven’t seen her for years.”

“Mom, she just talked with you in your room. She’s pushing you right now.”

“Come around here so I can see you. Well, hello, Vicky, love your hair.”

Mom never unpacked her clothes at the nursing home. Every time we came to visit, she quipped, “I’m ready. Take me home. I’ll only be a minute, let me grab my suitcase.”

She loved playing games. I have a picture of her playing bingo with eight other elderly women and one man. Volunteers were stationed behind them to help find the numbers under bingo.

Who ever yelled “bingo” first got to pick a prize out of the box of trinkets and costume jewelry.

Mom finally won and went up to get her prize. Another lady was picking her prize out of the box from the previous game. Mom saw the necklace she took.

“That’s what I want.” She tried to take it from the other lady; the two of them sitting in their wheelchairs pulling each other back and forth with all hands clasped on the necklace.

A volunteer stepped in, broke them apart and with diplomacy found another trinket for mom.

Mom constantly tried to get Don to take her downtown. Don was an old friend of the family who had been at the nursing home for over a year.

“Don, let’s get outta here and go downtown,” she would say.

“I’m ready, Dolores, but I need to get my pills.” Then he would be distracted and they would forget the entire plan.

Mom and Don eventually ended up in wheelchairs with food trays strapped behind them to keep them from getting up and falling or walking out of the building — patients can’t be watched 24/7.

Because of mom’s four years in the nursing home, I learned a lot about dementia. I drove the lady around for a few more minutes. “Let’s enjoy the drive.”

“Yes, it’s lovely.”

The lady, like mom, was grateful and able, at times, to be in the here and now. “Thank you so much for the ride. I know my house is close by here.”

Dementia is a sad ailment. I finally realized the lady walked out of the care facility. I entered the facility’s parking lot, “Here’s your home.”

“Maybe it is.”

This column includes both fiction and nonfiction, and views expressed do not necessarily represent those of The SUN. Submissions can be sent to editor@pagosasun.com.

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