Monday, April 14, 2014

PSA on Elder Travel

Dear Readers,

If you have a loved one who is showing the least bit of memory loss, confusion, or inability to follow multiple steps of directions, PLEASE ensure they are accompanied by another person when they travel.  Please, do not let them travel on their own because the risk of getting lost is high.  If they have dementia, even if they seem fairly capable, do not rely upon the airport staff to get your loved one where they need to go.  It may not turn out as you intended.

While Lyn travels with a companion, not every individual with dementia does.  To illustrate, I will share what happened to me this week that prompted the above plea.  As I sat crocheting while waiting for my plane to fly home, I realized an elderly man was standing beside me looking around.  I motioned to the seat beside me and invited him to have a seat.

"No, thank you.  I walked away from my bag and I'm trying to find it.  It is blue."
"Do you need some help?" I asked.
"No, thank you." he muttered as he wandered off, looking in each cluster of seats for his bag.

I slowed my stitches and started paying more attention to him as he moved slowly around the six gates around us.  His search was haphazard and I realized his clothes were a bit disheveled.  I became more concerned when I saw him just stop moving to stand in place.  I stuffed my lace into its bag and hurried over to him.

"Did you find your bag?"  I asked.
"What?"
"Did you find your bag?"  I repeated and saw the interest come into his eyes.  I had just prompted his memory and my heart sank.
"No.  I don't know where my bag is.  It is blue."
"Are you here with anyone?"  My hope was quickly diminishing for his ability to manage the chaos of LAX airport on his own.
"No."
"Ok, then.  Let's get you some help.  Is that OK?"  I started scanning the crowd for airport personnel who were not engaged with boarding passengers.
"Yes, please." he responded right as I spotted someone.

I asked the man to stay right there while I rushed to the employee, calling out to him before he could get too far into the crowd.  Fortunately, he heard me and turned.  "Can you please help?  I am very worried about an elderly gentleman who has become separated from his bag and seems confused."  The employee worked for American Airlines and he was immediately attentive.  I took him to where I had left the gentleman.

A short series of questions was asked of the gentleman and we learned he was indeed alone and had been brought to the gate area in a wheel chair.  He didn't know where his wheel chair was parked.  He wasn't sure where he was going and didn't remember who was to meet him there.  He didn't know where his ticket was.  His ticket was poking out of his shirt pocket.  It had his name and destination.  The employee got onto his radio and started requesting assistance, signaling to me that he was taking the man into care.

I rubbed the man's arm and said "He's going to help you now.  Is that OK?"  "Yes."  I took my bags and hurried back to my gate where they were already boarding.  Before I had to go down the jetway, I turned back and saw 5 employees around the gentleman and I worried.  I assume he got to his destination because I've seen no reports of a lost elderly man flying between Los Angeles and Nashville.

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