An anxious man sits in the middle of a room with his head on his hands. A thought bubble shows him walking out on his loved one with Alzheimer’s.

Family Members Who Walk Away

Did you know... There are some who abandon their family members when a diagnosis of Alzheimer's is given? I was horrified when I was told this.

I would not have believed it if it weren't for who told me - it was the geriatrician who first became involved with my dad. "How could anyone do that?" I thought. She told me stories that were unbelievable to me.

Abandoning versus not doing enough

The geriatrician told me that family members would drop their loved one off at the Emergency Department of the hospital and leave. Yup, leave.

Sometimes they would say they could no longer look after them. Sometimes they would just leave without any explanation. They would abandon their family member. I hesitate to say they would abandon their 'loved one' because, in my opinion, you don't abandon someone you love.

The person with Alzheimer's now becomes the responsibility of the hospital, a system that is not prepared or equipped to deal with this, let alone to find care for the person outside of the hospital. I cannot get my mind around this heartless act.

How it all started

How this discussion came up was when I was expressing my feelings of guilt that my brothers and I weren't living in the city where dad and mom lived.

I expressed that we were doing the best we could to help dad and mom given we live out of town. I was expressing that I was concerned we weren't doing enough. I said that we were communicating over email, text, and phone calls all the time.

I was sorry she had to hear from each of us at different times on behalf of dad and mom. She told me she was happy to support us if we needed to talk to her. She said she was "impressed" at how involved we were.

Impressed? I did not understand. Why would she be impressed? There was nothing impressive about supporting Dad and Mom. That was when she continued and told me why.

The thought is not the deed

I suppose if I'm honest, maybe I could understand thinking, after years of dealing with Alzheimer's that you wanted out; that it was overwhelming, too much to deal with. But to actually do that? I must add in here that I believe it's ok to feel that way at times.

The thought is not the deed. I want that to sink in - the thought is not the deed. Imagine the fear your family member would be experiencing whether cognitively or not.

I believe there are threads in their brain that the person with Alzheimer's keeps. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to get those glimpses but whether we see them or not, they are there.

Disrupting those threads

Now put that person in the emergency room. They are in an unknown place, with unknown people, perhaps nothing in their memory to attach to, no thread to reduce that fear, because their family member left. I find that to be more heartbreaking than the disease itself.

I hope those who have chosen that decision can live with themselves. I do not think I could. No, I know I couldn't.

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