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Balancing safety and independence is not always easy


Question: My father, who is almost 90, has dementia and various other health issues. The care provider typically takes him to the gym (it’s less than a mile from home). One day, he decided to leave the gym by himself, as his massage therapist wasn't there. He walked home without incident but this scared my mom and the care provider.

Another thing: the care provider sometimes takes dad to Barnes & Noble. He spends several hours there and then is picked up. One time he decided to walk home, which is right by the bank where he typically withdraws about $500 cash. Again, they did not know he had left and he got home without incident. Thank you God.

When I ask the care providers to wait with him instead of driving him and then picking him up, they say nothing has happened since then so they can continue to drop him off then pick him up. At home, they clean the house and keep my mom company. Mom is 85 and has some dementia but is capable of being on her own for several hours with no problem.

The care providers will take him and stay with him if I insist. I want to be sure that this is not unreasonable for me to ask them to do that. I also wonder who is liable if he does walk home and something happens to him. Any direction and advice?

Dr. Amy: While some forms of dementia are reversible, the most common forms—Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia—are progressive diseases. As a result, your father may have been safe walking home six months ago, and may not be today. The difficulty is that you cannot know when a change in his level of functioning will occur. And so you are faced with a challenge. On the one hand, you want to promote and respect his independence as much as possible. On the other hand, you want to make sure that he is safe.

It is not unreasonable to ask the caregivers to stay with him and make sure he gets home safely. Safety first is a good guiding principle, for his sake and for yours. I know you would all feel terrible if something happened to your dad while he was away from the house on his own. I encourage you to talk with your dad’s doctor about his condition and makes plans accordingly.

Good luck!


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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. October 10, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Posted by cindy

    wow cant even believe you are telling this story. All the difficulty people with real problems go through and you wonder what to do with your parents care givers. Im done......


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