An elegant, older woman with Alzheimer’s stands clutching a shawl around her, looking confused. Lines as on a map emanate from her.

My Mother Joan: The Beginning

My mother Joan was an executive assistant to a prominent CEO in the media business for more than 30 years. She was articulate, soft-spoken and had the looks of a movie star. She was always immaculately dressed and was very comfortable around movie stars, CEO’s, and famous politicians including several presidents of the U.S. As of today, she is 84 years old and doesn’t look her age – and never has.

She retired at 65, and she and her husband moved home to California to be closer to her daughter and her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother Dorothy passed away in an treatment home at the age of 87. Her husband passed away in 2006. Joan lived alone in her California home after his passing.

In 2011, she called a meeting with her three children and her financial advisor to discuss her finances and long-term care options. As the advisor said in the meeting, “Joan is convinced that she will get Alzheimer’s – it is not a question of if, but when.” At the time, she was fortunate to have financial means. We decided not to pursue any long-term-care policy and that if the time came, we would deal with it then.

Small signs pointing to Alzheimer's

Over the next few years, we began seeing signs of unusual behavior. She was spending money foolishly. Her conversations on the phone were different. People were taking advantage of her. She was too kind to say no to anyone. She was a victim of the Wells Fargo banking abuse of elderly customers. She got confused between 8am and 8pm. We knew she was suffering from dementia.

Four years ago, we convinced our mother to sell her California home and move in with us in Pennsylvania so we could care for her. Her home sold and closed escrow, and we shipped everything she owned across the country.

Unbeknownst to us, she paid for a trip, a European cruise with a friend of hers – scheduled to depart (from Los Angeles) 10 days after her house was emptied. We decided to have her stay in California with her daughter-in-law until her flight was to leave. We made plans to ship her car after her flight.

Getting lost with Alzheimer's

The day before her departure she left the house about 3pm, drove to the bank to withdraw money from the ATM. She never returned. Unfortunately, she left her cell phone at the house. Minutes seemed like hours. We felt helpless 3,000 miles away. By midnight that evening, there was an Amber Alert posted and every social media platform was used to try to locate where Joan might be. What she was wearing at the time. Her photo was everywhere in Southern California.

The California Highway Patrol has cameras on the freeways and found that she had been driving south in Orange County late into the night. They had tracked her license plate until 2am in southern OC but couldn’t identify where she was. She was lost. A concerned citizen (an angel) saw a woman standing on the corner of a busy entrance into the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego county at 9am. This woman, a complete stranger, noticed something was odd.

Several hours later the woman was leaving the Fairgrounds – and noticed this fair-skinned blonde was still standing on the corner. She pulled over. She walked over to Joan and realized Joan was confused. As luck would have it, she found Joan’s daughter’s name and phone number in San Francisco and called. Joan had been found!

Moral of the story

The moral of this beginning story is to not overlook the small signs you see or feel that come with this terrible disease. More to come on Joan’s issues and how we deal with it.

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