For much of my childhood, we lived in a neighborhood nicknamed Wormyville. This Beaver Cleaver-esque community could have been named this because the roads wormed every which way since they really seldom went East/West or North/South in any sense, but it was actually named that way after the original developer, a nice man nicknamed Wormy. This little area is a city planner and a first responder headache, but it really added to the charm of living in our little hamlet.
Here are some characteristics of our neighborhood:
- Lots of mature trees of all Ozarks’ varieties. Flowers everywhere. Gardens, for better or worse–but usually better–in many back yards.
- There were a few dead-end roads, but most of the streets eventually led to the outside roads and back into “town”.
- There were a few home-based businesses and churches sprinkled nearby, but it was mainly single-family houses that kind of looked similar, but not annoyingly so.
- There was a pond that invaded the neighborhood, then drained away, diagonally across the street from us.
- There was a railroad track at the edge of Wormyville. My then girlfriend lived at her sisters’ nearby part of the time and her grandparents’ the rest of the time, both within earshot of the train. While we separately hid in closets or around corners in the hall, tethered and talking on our tech-challenged (corded) telephones, we would first hear the train toot by at my house, then hear it echo on her phone by her house. It reminded us that we weren’t the 100 miles away that it seemed like at the time. (A few years later we got married and now watch and listen to trains fondly together)
- There were usually kids playing, people bike riding, BBQing everywhere…
- The Ice Cream Man frequented the neighborhood, perhaps because of it being a good market and perhaps because he would get lost in the wormy streets.
- Everyone knew everyone else, for better or worse by today’s standards. We knew all of our neighbors by name and could have dropped by any of them in a pinch for anything…and they us.
- Life in Wormyville was great. Each of our neighbors had kids that we, at one time or another, played with and/or ate Pat’s Pizza with.
So why bring this up on an Alzheimer’s/Dementia blog?
For one, it shaped who we are and is the backdrop for my mom’s 40’s and early 50’s years and is a time gone by now. It also brings up an important point that this local news video also points out well:
Neighbors don’t always have a support structure like Wormyville anymore!
We simply must check on our relatives, family, friends and acquaintances! Every day in America, seniors fall and are not checked on sometimes for days or weeks, often with terrible results. We saw this first-hand several years ago when a close relative fell and, because of a scheduling issue with our checking on her, wasn’t found for many hours (and we were much better at checking on her and others in the family than many are). When climates are extreme (summer and winter typically), this becomes even more important.
SeniorAge, the nonprofit that employees me, does a few things that helps bridge these gaps. They have a comprehensive (but not nearly everyone that needs it) phone assurance program to check on seniors under their client list. They accomplish this with staff and volunteers and it is provided free (as is nearly everything they do although some programs have a suggested but not required donation to keep the program afloat). Another thing SeniorAge does extremely well is it offers wellness programs located most often in senior centers that help prevent falls that make this scenario such a reality. So much more could be done if funding was more robust, but they work very efficiently with what they are afforded by legislatures, grants and private donations. SeniorAge is an outside of the box thinking group. They started a fan drive recently at a bunch of senior centers and distributed hundreds of free box fans to seniors who need them, but more always needs to be done.
So, do you know someone who has dementia or is caring for someone who does? Does one of your neighbors? Find a way to be sure that they are being checked on. Call on your area agency on aging (same organization that SeniorAge belongs to). Call the Alzheimer’s Association. Make sure their caregiver knows you have his/her back if needed. Familiarize yourself with your state’s Silver Alert (or similar) program and assist when possible with it.
I know getting to know neighbors is messy. Unfortunately now I have live in the same neighborhood in a different town for over 5 years and know far too few people around me. I get it. I do! However, there are many in this age group and also many who have dementia that need us to be there for them in an extended support network. I will commit to finding a way to help better. Will you?
Life was so simple back in Wormyville. If a patient with dementia wandered out and about and seemed confused, there would have been a dozen people stop them to check on them before it became a news story. I know that technology has replaced humanity so much that we shouldn’t NEED such a tight community, but wouldn’t it be great to go back and give it a try again? Until then, let’s fill in those gaps.
Update on mom: Things are still stable and doing well. I was gone for 2 days celebrating my 48th birthday, but my sis and my step-dad filled me in. I know mom is happy these days, but I am 100% sure she would love to be back to those days in Wormyville again.