Oct 20, 2012

Was Great Grams a Wanderer or an Escapist?

What Great Grams did, could not be considered wandering, in my mind, until I read the article explaining escapists. Great Grams ran in terror, and she usually ran toward what she feared most.

By Max Wallack

Was Great Grams a Wanderer an Escapist or Both?
Previously, I had heard about Alzheimer’s patients wandering as a  non-goal directed behavior. People with Alzheimer’s disease frequently pace and are restless. It is reasonable that they might wander to an area which is now unfamiliar to them and become disoriented and lost.

The goal-oriented wandering is usually understood as searching for a place and time that the Alzheimer’s patients remembers that gave them peace and comfort.

The type of wandering that my family dealt with was escapist wandering.

My Great Grams, who passed away from dementia in 2007, knew she was “in trouble” (her words), and always felt she needed to escape. She just didn’t understand that the fearful thing that she needed to escape was within her own brain.

Great Grams made many escapes. What she feared most was not having a home.

What she feared was being put into a nursing institution or hospital. She would escape when she was fearful that we, her family, would put her into such a facility. The sad part of this was that her escapes would often make her greatest fears a reality.

The worst of Great Grams’ escapes came early one morning. Grandma and Grandpa were home with Great Grams. Grandma was still sleeping.

Often Great Grams would plan her escape. One way we had a heads up was that we would notice that she would put on her nightgown on top of all her other day clothes, so she would be ready for her escape.

On this particular morning, Great Grams quietly snuck out of the house. The house is on top of a steep hill. Once you walk down the long street, you reach a major street.

Keep in mind, Great Grams was about 92, and she had Paget’s disease of the bone, which, in her case, produced leg pain and a weak bowed left leg.

Well, somehow Great Grams managed to run down that entire hill to the main street. Grandpa noticed she was gone, and ran after her. He didn’t even have time to put shoes on.

Now, Great Grams was a very fearful woman. She had been a fearful person her whole life. She was afraid of traffic, afraid of strangers, etc. Well, this fearful woman started flagging down trucks out on the major road to beg for help because we were “going to kill her”.

Let’s picture that scene. A tiny woman in her 90’s is standing on a major street corner with a man around 60. This man, wearing no shoes, is arguing with the woman.(He was trying to convince her to come home.)

It didn’t take long for a truck to stop and offer help. Then, the unbelievable happened. Great Grams, this tiny fearful woman with the bad leg, climbed up into the truck with this strange man. Her fears had driven her to do what she feared.

Fortunately, we learned later that the truck driver lived nearby, and he had accurately assessed the situation. He said he felt sorry for Grandpa.

He drove Great Grams to the police station, where she continued her accusations. The police sent her to the hospital by ambulance. She was then transferred to a psychiatric facility for several weeks, before she came home once again.

What Great Grams did, could not be considered wandering, in my mind, until I read the article explaining escapists. Great Grams ran in terror, and she usually ran toward what she feared most. She was an escapist.

Max Wallack is a student at Boston University. His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Puzzles To Remember has already distributed 12,646 puzzles to over 1298 Alzheimer’s caregiving facilities in all 50 states, plus Canada, Mexico, England, and Colombia.

Original content Max Wallack, the Alzheimer's Reading Room