Are reminder notes enough to let the person with dementia live alone or drive a car
Are reminder notes enough so that if you knew you were going to lose your car keys tomorrow, you could put them in a “special” place tonight and prevent their loss altogether?
I have a friend, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, who has been telling me about just such a plan she has put into action to save her memory. Every day she writes notes about “forgetting”– so she won’t forget things tomorrow. Post-it notes paper her walls, doors, fridge, calendar and table-top.
Louise, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, lives alone and is fairing well enough to retain her driving privileges. Her neighborhood shopping center is only a few blocks away so she manages quite well driving that short distance. At least, that’s what she tells me.
Louise plans ahead every evening, and writes notes about all the things she may forget tomorrow. Her own way of postponing the “forgetting” of Alzheimer’s. It sounds like a good idea to me and I’m thinking–“what could it hurt?”
Actually, Louise had handled Alzheimer’s much better than I thought she would. And I readily agreed to join her for a quick trip to the corner grocer. As we settled into the car, I noticed that she was struggling a little more than usual with the gear shift, but I stayed silent and allowed her to handle it. Some issues had nothing to do with memory, I reminded myself. And I shouldn’t be a pest, always trying to take care of her.
As Louise worked with the stubborn gear shift, I noticed the collection of Post-it notes along the dash of her car. ‘Louise, saving her memory again,’ I smiled. Then I felt compelled to ask about one peculiar “post-it note” taped to the dash. “What’s this, Louise?” I asked and pointed to the words in Bold red letters,”Turn Key.”
Louise had begun to perspire in her struggle with the gear shift, unable to move it into Drive. When she glanced where my finger pointed, she fairly shouted. “Oh my goodness! How could I forget?” She reached across and grabbed my hand. “Thank you, thank you.” Then she turned the key and started the car and the gear shift slid smoothly into Drive.
I was stunned. As Louise would tell me later, many weeks earlier she had tried to drive her car but could not get it to move. After many attempts in a single day, she finally remembered. She needed to turn the key to start the car. To be certain it never happened again, she taped the Post-it note to the dash. TURN KEY to start the car before attempting to drive it.
Louise had a good idea. The post-it notes are helpful– to a point.
They are not helpful for major things such as driving a car, operating machinery or a sewing machine, babysitting young children, using weapons of any kind.
The problem with Louise’s theory is–
- She forgot the car had to be started by turning the key before it would GO
- She forgot there was a note telling her how to start the car
- She thought something was wrong with the gear shift, though there is much more to driving a car than the gear shift
- What if during her next drive, she forgets what a red-light means, or a stop sign, or yield for children, or school crossing, or railroad crossing
- What if she knows what a Stop sign means, but doesn’t remember how you stop a car
The “what-if’s” are endless. Where Alzheimer’s is concerned, there is no way to plan ahead, or know what you will forget tomorrow, or an hour from now, or a minute from now. There is no sequence to the forgetting that can be planned for or adjusted to ahead of time. My Mom’s home was covered with post-it notes but she never remembered to read them.
Reminder notes have their place, but they can not be used to drive a car, or operate machinery, or use a weapon, or take medication, or babysit young children, or make doctor’s appointments– Family members, Other loved ones or Care-givers must take the responsibility for the person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia when it comes to life and death decisions.
Reminder notes are not enough to make major life decisions.
Here are a few items that may help if you are caring for an elderly loved one!