Wandering

I’ve heard and read about wandering by Alzheimer’s patients. A coworker of mine once found a wanderer at her door in the wee hours. I know there is potential for it, but I have tended to think Mom won’t wander because she has led such a sedentary life. It’s just not in her to go walking around. However, that is the old Mom. This Mom still tends to be somewhat lazy, a trait that my spouse and others who have married into my family tease us about. We all like to be horizontal, as in stretched out on the couch, sleeping late, going to bed early, napping on weekend afternoons, sitting at every opportunity. It’s just our way, and Mom seems to be the source of that tendency in all of us. But the Alzheimer’s brain is so transformed that very few of Mom’s original tendencies can be relied upon to last. Thankfully, the laughter is still there. And she is happy to take a nap once or twice a day. But I observed her tonight a bit and think she is also driven by habit, by what little recall she has. She sees a door, and she opens it. And walks through, even though she has no destination in mind.

We were in her apartment. I popped in just briefly to supply her with underwear before a major winter snowstorm blows through. I was eager to get back on the road. I think she was confused by the fact that I did not take off my coat. We sort of danced around each other in the apartment, me stocking her dresser while she talked a little bit about the cat, and about how dinner was late tonight. I told her I needed to leave and she opened her door and walked out into the hall ahead of me, not really knowing where she was going or what I might be planning. She likes to walk me to the door when I leave, so she came toward the lobby with me, but then she seemed to be drawn back to her apartment – back through the door. It could also be that she is confused sometimes about where her apartment is. The other day, she peeked out her door to see whether people were going in to lunch yet, and the next thing I knew she was trying to enter an apartment across the hall. That quickly, she had forgotten where she lives.

I also think, at least in Mom’s case, that a quick departure is one way to deal with difficult emotions. A couple of weeks before Christmas, the nurse called me at work to say Mom had stormed out the front door of her assisted living facility. Staff had a hard time coaxing her back inside. An hour or so later, Mom emerged from her apartment with her coat on, so the nurse asked me to come and be with Mom to see what was going on. By the time I got there and asked her why she had her coat on, Mom said, “Because I’m cold.” But I heard stories about another resident, one of Mom’s friends, having a really bad morning as well. And it occurred to me that the two probably had a fight. And because Mom is very child-like, stomping away was probably the only solution she could think of to end the fight and cool down. This is a guess, of course, because Mom had no memory of a fight, either. That single departure scared the facility administrator so much that he asked me to stay with Mom for two nights to ensure she wouldn’t try another escape. Sure enough, she was a perfect angel. No escape attempts. No weird behavior. Mostly, she just wondered why I was around all the time. I thought after that that I was in the clear, that it was a one-time thing. But I’ve heard from receptionists that Mom has slipped out the front door a time or two since, but has been convinced to come back in. So I might have a wanderer on my hands after all.

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