Written by Margarita Morgan
August 16, 2014
Helping my elderly neighbor Candice with simple tasks around her house was never a problem, but before they got to know us, going into town with her to the supermarket was a little uncomfortable. I have to praise residents in my town for being so accommodating, respectful and patient. Until they understood that we were her neighbors driving her around because she had no family of her own, they did give us dead stares for the things Candice used to do.
As an elderly person suffering from early stages of dementia, she often forgot what she needed, her money or how to pay at the cashier’s. My other neighbors, my husband and I used to talk about how ironic it was that without knowing the circumstances, people automatically assumed that if we were accompanying her, we must be responsible for her antics. I can’t count the amount of times I said “I’m sorry” to apologize for delays, for Candice blocking an isle, or for the many, many times she asked the same question. We used to care for her basic needs and ironic or not, strangers always blamed us for not controlling her well.
Candice is a fiercely independent woman who refused to move closer to her relatives and would not consider letting us buy the items she needed. She wanted to go herself and if we didn’t take her, she would start walking until someone picked her up. We live in a semi-rural area and temperatures are quite extreme since we are in a high dessert. Naturally, my other neighbors and I were always worried that she would just leave and quite a few times we did receive a phone call from one of the town store owners to let us know Candice was about all by herself.
One such occasion, she managed to get a Good Samaritan to “fix” her car, which had no battery because she had neither a license nor registration for the car. All mayhem ensued because she happily waved at us as she was leaving. How on earth did we miss that I don’t know. Right at that time, I was with my neighbor Debbie on her front lawn. The Security Guard at the entrance of our community called my husband to ask if it really had been Candice who just left the property and then he called everyone in town to tell us if they saw her. Eventually a waitress called in and my husband went to meet with Candice as if by coincidence. As per the request of her relatives when we called, between the waitress and my husband, they managed to get the car keys from Candice and then you can imagine the circus it took to help her “find her keys”.
Candice is now in a convalescent hospital recovering from a stroke she suffered when she left to go to the store by herself and decided to walk on a particularly hot day. Neither one of my neighbors nor I were around and she collapse just a few yards from her home. There really isn’t much anyone can do when a person remains legally accountable for their own choices. In Candice’s case, Social Services came to visit her a couple of times at the request of her relatives who wanted conservatorship of her well being, but the investigator found she could still live on her own, this, despite of the account we gave that she often had spoiled food, and swarms of ants in her kitchen that we used to clean.
In any case, my neighbors Debbie, Emi, Jimmy and us tried to keep an eye out for her and as a result, we received funny looks from people who didn’t know Candice’s story. Unless you live or interact with a person who has dementia, you never know how debilitating that illness is for those who suffer from it and how difficult it is for those who help out. There were five of us who took turns looking out for Candice and as such, we did not experience the full blast of all the consequences resulting from her behavior in public, but I can only imagine what it is like for those who have no choice or no help. Next time you see an elderly misbehaving, please consider at the very least giving a sincere smile to his or her companion. I guarantee that it would make a good impression on a difficult day.
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