The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” –Mark 1:15
Happy Friday all! Hope you have had a good, safe, COVID-19-Free week. 🙂 So far, so good here. I was surprised with a glaze of ice and snow and apparently the half-a-dozen in the ditch on my way to work were too. My dementia “spidey senses” went off as I drove and it made me think…this mess reminds me of our dementia mess is several ways. Perhaps 10?
Ten Things You Can Learn About Dementia Driving in the Snow
- Straight ahead vision works best.- As scary as it can be, I love how much driving into snow reminds me of going warp speed in sci-fi movies.
Driving into snow like this has a couple of important things to remember: Don’t use your bright lights/high beams. It makes it worse. Also, keep your eyes straight ahead, even directly into the warp debris you are diving into. Looking away, even for a minute, can cause a wreck. In dementia, this is similar. The field of PERCEPTION seems to be focused forward and in an ever-decreasing focal circle. What does this mean? The patient can “see” peripherally, but they only process what is right in front of their nose. More practically, when you approach a patient, like my mom, who has been in the journey a while, BE SURE TO MAKE EYE CONTACT. You may have to sit on the floor to make it happen. If you approach as you would approach me, you will scare them and could put them in a tailspin that will mess up the whole visit.
- Stay in the tracks.- Drive in the snow ruts, not ON the hump between nor in the passing lane any more than you have to. Generally speaking, that worn down area has a less chance of being slick. Veering around and deviating can spell problems for you and those around you. This reminds me in dementia of the need to stay on task and routine. My mom, and the Sweet 17, did really pretty well in the memory unit when they were on schedule. However, when a bunch of folks visited at once, when someone would pass away (publicly), or when any other disruption happened, they could be out of whack for a couple of days. Find your groove in scheduling and stick with it.
- Slow and steady wins the race. Driving just below the speed limit is a good plan in the snow. Some will arrogantly/disrespectfully blast by you in the passing lane, risking you and themselves in the process, but your best chance at safety lies in this approach. Don’t drive too slow or you may be rear-ended, especially if visibility is rough. A nice, relaxed trip is safer. When communicating with a person with dementia, slow and steady, while respectful, is the ticket. You don’t need and shouldn’t treat them like a baby, just be deliberate and slower. Give them time to think and process what you say. Too fast and they will miss what you are saying and get irritated. Too slow and they may feel like you are just being condescending. Annunciating clearly and speaking just a click louder too helps. Read facial cues and ask clarifying questions if that is an option depending on their status in the disease. I wish this stuff was easier…
- Return to the basics.-I am a super casual driver. I practically learned to drive with a bench front seat with my bride sitting next to me with my right arm over her shoulder…not exactly the 9 and 3 clock positions you learn today. However, a 9 and 3 hand position is safer…especially in the snow. To avoid overcorrecting or sliding off the road, drive with both hands and be careful like you did when you first learned to drive. Maintain distance. Use your stinking signals. Drive like a scared driver with the driver’s test officer in the passenger’s seat. In living day-to-day with your loved one, frequently return to the basics. Break out the photo album and tell them about the pictures. (No quizzes, please…). Play some of the old songs from their youth or the old hymns. Cook familiar foods. Keep it simple…and enjoy yourselves. Don’t expect too much, just enjoy what is left and don’t concentrate on what is missing.
- Help where you can and have some tools ready.- I used to have a truck and would keep a chain around in case someone needed to be pulled from the ditch. It may be wise as an axe murderer could be the one stuck…but I am a pretty stout guy. It never hurts to keep some tools handy. Learning more and more about dementia is wise too. Here are your best 2 friends right now for learning: Alz.org’s website and this link and this YouTube channel. The college course on the second one is a tad dated looking, but the info is very solid and it is free. 🙂 The YouTube is from Teepa Snow, whom I love to watch and learn from often. 🙂 The more you know, the better you can cope, the better you can care/empathize, and more tools you will have when things go wrong…and they will.
- Teamwork makes the dream work.- Driving in slick roads is kind of a team effort. When everyone is respectful, maintains distance, uses signals and headlights, and is careful, things work ok. The roads are cleared as fast as they can and all can be happy. Something from the chain get broken and all bets are off. In caregiving, please focus on team, not going it alone. Get help. Call your Alzheimer’s Association field office (or better, visit their website) and your closest Area Agency on Aging and see what they can do. Enlist family, church family, friends, neighbors, civic groups…build a team. And let the team help.
- Don’t overcorrect– Overcorrecting when you start sliding is probably the leading cause of wrecks in snow (and perhaps motor fatalities in general). If you start to slide, take your foot off the gas and don’t over steer….just point your wheel where you want to go and wait for the traction to resume. Gentle braking is ok, but locking the breaks is bad. Isn’t it interesting how overcorrecting…or over-anthing-ing tends to be bad and moderation tends to be good? Remember that in caregiving. First, don’t expect too much. Don’t correct them when they get a story wrong. Don’t make a scene when they act out. They can sense such. Just gently do your thing and make adjustments where things need to go.
- Always be learning to be prepared– In the winter, keep your gas tank full. Keep a blanket in the car. Keep your phone charged up and AAA/a tow truck numbers handy. Keep your car in good shape (cough…my car aside). Preparation matters in winter driving safety…and in dementia. Be prepared by educating yourself. Be prepared by taking notes of behaviors’ causes as best you can. Be prepared by writing down what the doctor says. Be prepared for changes. Be prepared by having a go-pack should you need to go to the hospital. Be prepared by visiting nursing homes (virtually these days) and get on waiting lists as needed. Be prepared financially by paying an elder care lawyer to assess the situation. Be prepared spiritually…get prayed up and stay in the Word. The more prepared you are, the smoother the sailing…but prepare for what cannot be prepared for.
- Some things look slick and others are slick but don’t look like it. Black ice. Ohhh you little devil! I was driving one evening through a near blizzard in Kansas when I hit a stretch that looked better road-wise. Then, out of the blue, my car slid out from under me and I found myself driving backwards at a high rate of speed. The culprit? Black ice. It looked good, but was terrible. Sometimes, like this afternoon here (not this morning), it looked worse than it really was. The bottom line: It is better safe than sorry. Same with dementia! If you have a warning sign, talk to your doctor!!! Please. Just do. There are meds that can extend the early stages and make the experience better…but you have to catch them in time. In addition to that reason, remember that there are dozens of conditions that mimic dementia. I have written extensively on that as well. Don’t assume…just talk to the doc.
- Making it to the destination is the goal. When it all comes down to it, the main thing is the main thing…making it to your destination in one piece. Be careful, educate yourself, make good choices, and pray. That applies to driving on ice, caring for those with dementia, or life in general. Quite a world we are living in. There has, perhaps, never been a more important time to seek the Lord, to pray, to root out our failures, and to look ahead to heaven.
Update: Mom had her first vaccine shot Wednesday and I did a video “chat” with her Thursday. She seemed to be doing ok. I sure hope the end game is allowing visits soon. 🙁
Last reminder: Tuesday night will be our Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group. It will be by Zoom. Shoot me an email to email@example.com and I will send you the link. We visit, we learn a little from each other, and we support each other. It takes a team to survive this mess. I hope to hear from you. 🙂