I read today an announcement and a call for help in the West Side Rag, an online news source for the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I will spend the summer once again this year.
When my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease I worried daily that this article would someday be about him. "Police Put Out Alert for Missing UWS Man" In the beginning of his illness, I would leave him alone in our apartment and go to see my patients in my office a few blocks away. The door staff in our building kept an eye on him, but they could not restrain him or tell him to stay home. They talked with him and even asked what he was up to, where he was headed as he left the building. They worried, too, that he would become disoriented and not find his way home. He had a cell phone with a GPS but it had to be turned on in order to be effective and it was not yet sophisticated enough to pinpoint a specific place where a person with a memory disorder would be.
My husband was a thrifty man, raised during the Depression and the Second World War. He turned the phone off when he was not calling someone. When he forgot to turn the phone off, he did not recognize the sound when it rang, nor did he recognize the vibration of the phone in his pocket or attached to his belt. Besides, he was often watching Con Ed workmen dig holes in the street which make lots of noise!
After two years of worrying, no one in the building disagreed with my decision to move to a gated single story house in a newly developing community in sunny Arizona. We purchased a plot of land in the center of the new community, away from main roads or highways where my husband could be involved in watching the construction of the other homes, which he loved, build a workbench (with my son's help) and outfit his garage workshop and work in his garden.
For another two years, this plan was effective. When my husband began to leave the house by himself, I installed a security system which alerted me when any of the external doors were opened. Just like a parent has to be alert when the children are quiet, which is counter intuitive because we like to get some work done when it is quiet, a caregiver to an Alzheimer person has to be concerned when it is quiet as well. Where is he and what is he doing that could cause him harm?
Caring for my husband had its rewards and its challenges, but luckily, he didn't go missing during the years of his illness. We are missing him now.