Have you seen my father?

There is no agony and worry like that of a missing family member. We raise our kids hoping to keep them safe and teaching them to keep themselves from harm. We never expect that as we get older, our roles may change from that of child to parent of our parents. That’s what dementia does to a family, it reverses the roles of child and parent.

“Have you seen my father? The service said they dropped him off one hour ago, but he’s not here.” Her voice is filled with stress, worry and a little panic.

The neighborhood search begins as she calls 911.

The onset of dementia is a slow process, one filled with its own worries, for it takes about six months for a correct diagnosis. The confusion sets in and memory starts to fail. Where would an elderly man on foot go? What precautions might he take in this heat?

While the police arrived and asked questions, two neighbors fanned out in vehicles to scour the neighborhood. At mid day in hot weather, nobody is out. Everyone is inside in their air conditioning. Everyone that is except for one man, sitting at a patio table set with the umbrella up providing shade.

“Hi. Are you visiting?”


“Are you Chris’s dad?”

“Yes. She’s not home and I’m waiting for her.”

“This is the neighbor’s house. Chris is around the corner and looking for you. Let me take you there.”

“Oh, good Lord. Okay.”

Walking down the street towards home, Chris is standing in the street talking with the police. I call her phone. “We’re walking down the street.” She waves and I wave back. Her dad just keeps walking along and greets her as if nothing has happened, maybe wondering why she wasn’t home.

After a few inquiries, it appears the service dropped him off at the wrong house. He didn’t know it was the wrong one, and so he was waiting for someone to come home. He raised the umbrella on the patio table for some shade.

It was a good outcome … this time.


5 Replies to “Have you seen my father?”

  1. This type of senerio is played out way too often. The transition in the early decline is the hardest to manage. The full blown constant supervision is not fully in place yet and so many fall between the cracks during this phase. Placing ultimate trust in agencies that are sometimes improperly policed or regulated is an issue. The rising spike in the aging population must dictate better education and stop-gaps to help reduce the risk to these helpless individuals. It’s a wake up call to hear of such events, whether it be a child left behind on a school bus or our fathers and mothers beyond our control.

  2. I used to think that cancer was the most cruel disease because it destroys the body and can take a life, but dementia / Alzheimer’s Disease is worse, it leaves the body intact while destroying the person inside and there is no cure.

  3. Glad to hear the outcome was happy. I agree with Doug. Dementia is a cruel, cruel disease. i think that perhaps multi-generational households were better able to deal with these circumstances than “agencies”. There’s no easy answers. Watched a baseball game yesterday on tv with my “old boy”. Animated conversation, with fragmented context. Bittersweet.

  4. Definitely hard to watch and live with. I recently went to a family reunion where I saw my grandmother for the first time this year. She couldn’t recall who I was. I’m not sure which was more painful, realizing she didn’t know who I was or watching her struggle to recall.

  5. My mother passed away last October, not quite making her 101st birthday. Physically fairly sound until almost the end but the mind had long before succumbed to dementia. Still, she got along fairly well in an assisted living facility with her own apartment until a year or so ago when the dementia had set in well enough that she wouldn’t leave her room without being coaxed and guided, too afraid she wouldn’t be able to find her way back.

    An observation: If you find a parent slipping mentally and they go to assisted living, make sure you find a way to get them to surrende valuables like jewelry. The tendency is to let them keep their things because it makes them more comfortable, but as they become more forgetful they won’t be aware that things are slowly being stolen from them and neither will you. The attendants might be very nice and patient with your parent, but minimum wages makes them very vulnerable to temptation.

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