I was speaking in Ohio earlier this month and had an experience that reinforced an important lesson for me. I was giving a community talk on dementia and a TV reporter came to interview me before the talk. We put on the microphone and launched into a 10-minute conversation on camera. She asked a lot of good questions, and then as my message became clearer to her, she threw me a curveball.
She said, “A man disappeared from his house in our community a couple of days ago and they haven’t found him yet. Do you have any insights about problems like this?”
In the split second before I opened my mouth, three thoughts flashed into my head: (1) You don’t know the details, (2) Don’t blame anyone for not watching him, and (3) But you can’t advocate locking everyone up, either.
I just began to speak from the heart of my approach and my mind went to a very different place. I said, “Often, when we acquire the label of ‘dementia’, we are seen as incapable of choice, and so this is taken away from us very quickly. I think that there are times, whether it be in a nursing home or one’s own home, when a person feels so disempowered that they have a need to exit and try to find a place where they can exert some choice and control once again. I think that if we can begin to partner with people in their care right from the start, often there will be less likelihood of such a catastrophic reponse.”
I went on to give my talk, but in the back of my mind was the question, “If that comment is broadcast, especially out of context of the other questions, how many ways can it blow up in my face??”
The next day I spoke to professional care partners. One of the organizers mentioned to me that he heard on the news that the gentleman had been located, and that he was safe. My host said, “It turns out that the guy took off because they were about to hold a court hearing to assign guardianship to a family member.”
Powerful stuff, choice.