Driving Bravely

I’ve been trying to keep up to date on research about MCI, mNCD, and dementia. This week I read an article that upset me a bit: Getting lost in dementia – An overlooked danger?

My first thought was, how can it be an overlooked danger? I think most people with memory problems have been worried at one time or another about getting lost. I use GPS navigation quite a lot, and for years I said it’s because GPS navigation will reroute me depending on the traffic density or amount of road construction, but it was really because I got tired of driving past my turns. This article said, “A new study sheds light on why people with dementia get lost and points towards new solutions,” so I thought I’d give it a look to see if there’d be any helpful pointers.

Then I realized that they weren’t just talking about not remembering the route. They were talking about “…being unsure of where we are,” and that’s scary. I’ve had a few occasions when I looked around and thought, “Shit, where am I?” and my heart started pounding and my stomach dropped. Each time that has happened to me I took a deep breath, and I continued driving until I recognized where I was. I’ve told myself that if I don’t recognize where I am in a short distance I will pull over and check a map app. Usually I have navigation on, and I just follow the directions until I know where I am. I trust that I put in the address correctly, which isn’t always the case, but it’s usually better than winging it.

So, I found the whole premise of the research study scary, but I read on to find any tips that might be helpful. To begin with the researchers found out that “The data … showed that the more complex the street network and the more complex street intersections, the more likely people with dementia would get lost.” That makes sense. On bad days I often take the quieter “scenic route.” I decide that it’s more important that I not be stressed. I’ve intuitively been doing the right thing. It’s important that I also stretch myself and practice using all of my cognitive abilities, but days when I have too much brain fog are good days for taking my time. Luckily I live in the foothills, and there’s usually a slower prettier route I can take to most destinations.

The article ends with this:

Spatial disorientation in dementia is a serious symptom but often overlooked until people with dementia go missing, with sometimes fatally [sic] consequences. Being aware of this danger and being prepared for its occurrence will not only give people with dementia the confidence to stay longer independent but also peace of mind to their carers and families.

If I want to remain independent I need to learn ways to make this less likely to happen if or when I get worse. I’m considering always using GPS tracking as I drive, perhaps with the sound muted for routes that I know well. 99.99% of the time I carry my phone when I’m out. I will put location apps on my phone, so my family can track me if necessary.

And, I’ve been thinking about getting a bigger smarter dog when Brownie moves on. I walk or hike with Brownie every day rain, snow, or sunshine, and I would continue that with another dog. Brownie is over 17 years old now, mostly deaf, and frankly he’s never been too smart. Next time I’d like a dog that I can train to take me back to my house or car if I get lost.

I want to have everything in place so if I have more cognitive problems in the future I’ve set myself up for success. I don’t want my family to feel that they need to have me supervised so I won’t wander off. I hope I never get to that point, but I’m going to be prepared just in case. It’s not that I’m one of those people who would rather die than go into a home. My mom has advanced dementia and she lives in a big senior center. She moved to the senior center about 25 years ago, after my dad died. Mom’s avocation has always been music and singing, and she lives near St. Olaf College which has wonderful free music concerts, and many of the people in her care facility have musical backgrounds. She first moved into an independent living apartment, she’s in a limited care part of the complex now, and she’s on the waiting list for the memory center. My oldest sister is a whiz at financial applications and she has gotten Mom on subsidized housing, so it’s not prohibitively expensive. I’d be okay with a situation like Mom’s, though I’m not certain what the equivalent setting would be for me.

In order to be proactive this week I started the AARP Smart Driver online course. It’s a self-paced four hour course. A lot of it so far seems to be directed at convincing seniors that maybe it’s time to give up driving, but there are many helpful tips for a 59 year old like me. After completing the class it’s possible to get a discount on car insurance too.

I started the week scared about spatial disorientation, but now I feel better. The more I face my fears the smaller they become. I have a lot of stress related health issues. I’ve found that my overall health is getting better the more I feel in control of what’s happening to me. When I was still working fulltime and I was scared, I didn’t have any control over my situation, because I didn’t know what was happening. It was hard for me to talk about what was wrong and ask for help. Some days on my way to and from work I listened to Brave by Sara Bareilles on repeat in my car. I’d belt out the lyrics, “I want to see you be brave!” I recommend listening to it and similar songs when things seem hopeless. “Show me how big your brave is!”

Photo by Beth Easton on Pexels.com

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