It was July. Buck, aged seventy-seven and demented, had taken to sneaking out the front door and disappearing, even though his wife, Connie, kept it locked.
Connie and Buck had lived in the same house for the last twenty-five years. It was on a quiet street in a neighborhood filled with young families. Connie, a petite, energetic seventy-year-old, retired elementary teacher, made special friends with five kids on their street. She loved hearing their laughter as they played their games. Buck, a retired engineer, took daily walks, usually with Connie but sometimes with one of the neighbor kids. Buck was a big affable man, six feet tall, grey hair, about 220 pounds, and strong. He still dressed as if he were going to his office to work. His favorite walking buddy was Amy, their ten-year-old next-door neighbor. When walking with Amy, they always took the same circular route, including his old bus stop, where they sit to watch at least one bus pass before they returned home.
When Buck wandered, he kept going until tired, then walked into any house with an unlocked door and asked for a ride home. He terrified people with his sudden intrusion into their homes. Three times, the police picked him up and brought him home. They warned Connie she had to “do something.” Buck’s wanderings were dangerous. He could be hit by a car or shot as an intruder.
After the third police encounter, Connie came up with the idea of a “name tag” for Buck to wear with his name and a phone number to call. It actually worked on the first day he wore it. Ten minutes after Buck disappeared, the phone rang. He had entered the caller’s home while they were eating breakfast. Buck sat down as if he had been invited. Connie drove four blocks to pick him up and thanked the nice couple. She hoped the name tag would be a solution!
But her hopes evaporated a few days later. Connie locked the front door before taking her shower. She left Buck in the living room watching the morning news. When she finished dressing and entered the living room, she saw the open front door. Buck was gone. She grabbed her cell phone, took the car and drove up and down nearby streets. Her cell rang. She pulled over and took the call. The police. Buck had entered another home. She went to the station to pick him up and received another warning.
Connie was at her wits end. She couldn’t watch Buck every minute, and the police were becoming impatient. What was next? Buck’s arrest? Just then, Amy came over asking for Buck to go walking with her. Connie asked Amy in for a few minutes and shared her worries with the girl. Amy suggested that during summer vacation she and the other kids could help. Whenever any of them saw Buck out by himself they would simply bring him back home. They could call themselves “Cop Kids.” That evening Connie went to her craft room and made a special badge for each of the five kids.
Amy came by the next morning, again asking to walk with Buck. Connie gave Amy her special badge. Amy pinned hers on with pride and took the rest to distribute to her other four pals. Amy and Buck took off chatting like birds.
Amy’s plan succeeded. The Cop Kids took their job seriously. During the next two weeks, Connie kept score. The five kids found and returned Buck seven times. Still, Connie stressed out over the problem of managing Buck. Summer vacation would end for the children. She lost sleep with her anxiety.
The third week, Buck managed to get past the Cop Kids and boarded the bus he used to take to work. Someone found him downtown, near his old office, wandering in the street. The police brought him back and told Connie this was the last time. Buck had become a danger to himself, they said, and if she did not do something the legal system would step in.
The next day, Connie called Buck’s doctor’s office and asked for help. They suggested a care management company called Super Senior Life. They told her that Buck’s wandering and dementia was not uncommon and they had found Super Senior Life to be helpful to other families with similar issues.
Within the week, Connie and Buck met with Super Senior Life, who suggested three things: to hire someone to stay with Buck whenever Connie did errands; to supply Buck with a G.P.S. monitor to wear all the time; to replace the door locks with a system Buck could not open.
Connie hired Super Senior Life to do all three of these things. Within a week, everything was in place. The new arrangements had the desired effect of protecting Buck while relieving Connie’s anxiety.
Susan M. Graham just published a book entitled “Can Lawyers Always Save the Day for Seniors? – True Retirement Stories”. She wrote this to share stories of common problems for elders that can be avoided or minimized if they just took time to plan and seek help.
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