Neighborhood Watch

I started to notice the changes about a year ago when I talked to her at neighborhood get-togethers or chatted with her when she was out walking her dog. Because I have a partial hearing loss, I first thought it was me. I must have misunderstood her words, or maybe they were muffled so I lost the context of what she was saying.

After a while, though, I started to realize that it wasn’t me. I may not have heard every word she said, but I knew that her sentences often didn’t make sense. She’d start talking about one subject and end up on another one altogether. She would forget a word and substitute another with a similar – but not equal – meaning (“big” for expensive, “little” for cheap). Every now and then she forgot the names of neighbors she had known for a long time.

Lately, other neighbors have started to talk about the changes they’ve observed. At first, we approached each other carefully because we didn’t want to set off any false alarms: “Have you noticed…?” “I’m not sure it means anything, but….” She is a well-loved neighbor; smart, funny, generous in spirit, and it breaks our hearts to see her struggling. Although an official diagnosis has yet to be made, we are pretty sure she isn’t going to get better.

Before Nancy retired, she had a high-powered job running the Special Ed program for a local school district. Although she loved her job, it was stressful, so she retired as soon as she was eligible for a pension. Not one to sit around, she filled her days with family, friends, and volunteer work. When her son and his wife had their daughter, Nancy embraced her new role as a grandmother. She happily looks after the baby several days each week and tells anyone within earshot how much she loves her granddaughter and relishes being her part-time caregiver.

Her son and daughter-in-law live fairly close and have witnessed the changes too. Although she doesn’t want to discuss it when her son tries to broach the subject, she apparently has willingly given up control of paying her bills. Her good friend and across-the-street-neighbor looks in on her regularly and helps her with once simple tasks that confuse her, like sending emails with attachments.

Her son wants her to be able to stay in her home for as long as she can. She is happy and, so far, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for a change. Fortunately, she lives in a neighborhood where everyone knows – and looks out for – each other.

So, we, the neighbors, worry and we watch. Worry for her and for her family; watch as someone we care for goes through a decline… one we are terrified to see in ourselves.

83 thoughts on “Neighborhood Watch”

    1. It could be a lot of things, that’s why I didn’t want to speculate. Hopefully, she’ll have a diagnosis soon and she and her family can make decisions based on good information. Until then, we’ll keep our eyes out for her and assist where we can. Thanks for your comment!

  1. I’m so sorry for all of you. Dementia is such a dreadful condition for all involved. With my grandmother, we were extremely thankful for her neighbors who kept an eye on things as long as she lived there alone. Eventually my parents had to move in with her as cooking became a danger. She tried cooking sausage from the bedroom and the pan caught fire. A neighbor such as you walking by saved the day and much more. I’ll say thank you for all caregivers and patients for what y’all are doing. Preserving her way of life and dignity for as long as possible is quite a gift.

    1. She seems “fine” now and we hope that she will be able to stay for a long while. The decline isn’t a straight path so we’ll just keep making sure she’s safe. What happened to your grandmother could have been so tragic. I hope Nancy’s son will move her or get her help before anything like that could happen.

      1. It was very scary. And when my parents made a huge sacrifice selling their home and moving in with her once the smoke damage was repaired she had a hard time adjusting to other people being in her house. So confusing for her. I hope your friend has as easy a transition as possible.

  2. This is a bittersweet story. Heartbreaking what’s happening to your friend, but heartening about the attention she is getting from neighbors. It is sad to think that this is our future, but comforting to know there are people who will look after us. So sorry, I know it’s tough to watch. Thanks for sharing.

  3. This is a beautiful piece. Being newly retired, I find I have more time to worry about things like this. Growing old is a privilege, but sometimes hard. How nice to live in a neighborhood where people pay attention to each other.

    1. I’m glad she has family close by. We can help out as much as possible, but they will need to make some very hard decisions at some point. I love being where I am right now in my life, but there is also a sense of urgency to do the things we enjoy as much as possible… you never know when we won’t be able to.

    1. Our neighborhood skews older so we will see more of this as time goes on. Not necessarily dementia, but certainly other challenges of aging. Hopefully, we can continue to rely on each other. Do your neighbors help to look after the man with dementia or does he have in-home care?

  4. What your neighbor is experiencing is terrible and for those of us of a certain age something we fear.
    She is blessed to have neighbors that care and are willing to do whatever they can to help her.

  5. Reading this, a fear overcame me. I saw this sort of thing happen to my former neighbor. At first I would get annoyed at the husband who “bossed” his wife around. She just laughed. Then I noticed the language issue. She had been a teacher but her grammar became odd. She sent me an email that made no sense. Then the husband put the house up for sale and they moved to a retirement community with levels of care. Within two years she was in a dementia unit. I only hope that if this happens to me, there will be someone to help. Your neighborhood is filled with kind people but sometimes that’s not enough. Blessings to this woman and her son who I’m sure worries. Independence vs. security. Tough call.

    1. You are right that it’s not enough, as much as we try to help. We all hope that her son will be able to make the hard decisions when he needs to. I’ve noticed some dings on her car that weren’t there before so the time will probably come to take away her keys… not an easy topic of conversation to have. And, at that point, what independence will she have?

  6. Your story certainly resonates with me. We have several neighbours who are much older than we are. We talk about one couple, in particular, and wonder how either of them will cope without the other, when the inevitable happens.

    We check on them, regularly, as do other neighbours. For now, we’re relieved that they still have each other.

    1. It would be terrible to go through something like this completely alone. Even without dementia, at a certain age, we all will need support from others. Your neighbors are lucky to have you looking in on them… and lucky to have each other.

  7. I agree with everyone who has said that this is a beautifully written post, Janis. For me, it was very difficult to read. My brilliant father had dementia and he did not go kindly. He fought and raged for many, many years.
    I read somewhere that all fear is, at root, the fear of death. But I now believe that an actual physical death is so preferable to the living death of dementia.
    You wrote earlier about Giving Tuesday. You and your neighbors are proof that good people give to others every single day.

    1. My father had it too. For the most part – as long as he remained at home (with 24-hour care) – he was a happy camper. When he broke his hip and had to move out of his house so he could be properly cared for, he became depressed. I feel so lucky to have had him for as long as I did, but when he finally passed away, it was time for us all to let go.

  8. You’ve hit upon that which frightens so many of us. The possibility of losing our minds to dementia is scary. I’m glad that your neighbor has people who are looking out for her best interests. Your post reminds of the mystery book Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante. It’s a story in which the main character has dementia and is accused of murder. I found the mystery to be memorable, if only because it gave me a clue into how it feels to have dementia.

    1. Still Alice (the book, I didn’t see the movie) also provides a frightening window into the disease. It’s scary for all of us to think about, but almost everyone is touched in some way. Until science can find a cure (soon, please), our society needs to be able to provide the support to the people – and their families – who are suffering from it.

  9. I haven’t experienced this in anyone close to me, but have seen it in other families and it is very scary. I haven’t read the book mentioned by the last commenter, but Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey helped me understand in a similar way. Also, Anne Tyler’s Spool of Blue Thread has a character who develops dementia. She likens it to those moments before you go to sleep when you are thinking quite lucidly then almost drop off. If you fully waken again you cannot, however hard you try, grasp what you were thinking about before. She put it much better than I have done, but I know that feeling.

    1. What an interesting description of memory loss – one which we can all probably relate to. I might look for those books at the library. I would like to understand as much as possible what my neighbor is going through. You are lucky not to have anyone close with the disease – hopefully, that bodes well for your future health.

  10. What a sad, but sweet story, Janis. You live in an amazing neighborhood. I can only hope that, when/if it comes to a point where I suffer from dementia (like my dear oma before me), I have a network of support around me, like Nancy, whether it be neighbors or friends. Not having children of your own, makes this prospect even more daunting…

    1. Although people say that having children is no guarantee that they will take care of you, it does up the odds. I also hope that as I age and need help, I will be surrounded by people who I can rely on. I think staying in this neighborhood is a good start.

  11. I’m sorry to hear about Nancy. It is wonderful that you, and your other neighbors, are there for her. My mother is now declining with short-term memory loss and some confusion. You are right that the decline is not a straight path. So heartbreaking all around.

  12. I’ve lived in my building about 17 years, and it’s agonizing to see some of my neighbors get older. These once vibrant, in the ball people now have trouble with basics. We all try to watch out for them, but it’s sort of heartbreaking. And yeah, we know it will happen to us too

      1. It’s just hard to fathom sometimes. One of my good friends is a bit older and very independent. She was not feeling well a few months ago and I asked the doorman to tell me if he didn’t see her so I could check on her, cause she’ll never ask for help

  13. Oh my goodness Janis, thank you for writing this post. As you know my heart goes out to Nancy and her family. The most difficult part of this situation for the family is Nancy’s not wanting to discuss it. Denial is the first stage. I went through this with my husband…it is tough to recognize there is something wrong, but you can’t get your loved one to cooperate about seeing a doctor. It is vitally important for Nancy to see a doctor because not all dementia is incurable…some dementias are due to vitamin deficiencies! Blood analysis is one of the first things a doctor will order to rule that out. I know it sounds strange, but as a caregiver, I was totally relieved when we finally got a firm diagnosis and knew that we were dealing with Aphasia. The MSW at the local Alzheimer’s Association recently told me I was ahead of the curve because I had put everything possible into place…she said most people wait until there is a crisis and then they are scrambling to find services and put things in place like guardianships. Also, people with dementia start doing things, which they don’t realize they are doing, like giving large sums of money away, even deeding a house to someone else. They can also physically harm loved ones and not even know they did it…I’m thinking of that grand baby. I hope Nancy’s son will see an eldercare (you know I hate that word!) attorney and start taking over more than paying the bills. The first order is find out what is really happening to Nancy’s brain. Thank you for making dementia more visible…most don’t realize it is a tsunami coming at our generation. Hugs. K

    1. I had already written this post when I read your recent one about your husband’s diagnosis, but what you said made me realize that there could be several possible causes of her memory loss. A doctor’s appointment has been made by her son so, hopefully, they will have more clarity. It would break her heart not to be able to take care of her grandchild, but it worries me a lot. Dementia truly is a tsunami and no one who can do anything about it (other than the drug companies, who stand to make tons of money) is putting the needed safeguards in place. And now, there is more talk about cutting Medicare and Medicaid, the two programs many people will be relying on. What a world.

      Hugs to you also.

  14. Being told we had cancer use to be a death sentence, and now it isn’t. Medical plans come into play with the vast majority of people living many more productive years. Now, we are all afraid of this post. And, you and she are so lucky to live in a community where you still have ‘real’ neighbors. A neighbor who can spare 20 minutes to check on someone they care about. A neighbor who can volunteer to write an email. Neighbors who know how much more comfortable it is for her to be in her home than a locked ward. If I lived closer, I’d want to move into your neighborhood and sign up to take a turn checking in on her.

    1. You would be welcomed into our neighborhood! It really doesn’t take much (at this point, anyway) to make sure she is doing well so I hope she can stick around for a while. When my father finally had to move out of his home, he really went downhill. I think most of us want to be surrounded by what is familiar no matter how well a facility might take care of us.

  15. I’m so sorry! It is hard, isn’t it, to see someone you care for and who was so vibrant begin to lose their memory. And it makes it all the scarier to know that we might be next. I hope you and the other neighbors realize what a gift you are to her for looking after her and helping her to keep her independence a least a little while longer. Thank you for your kindness….

    1. I hope that she can remain (semi-)independent for a long time. So far she seems to be able to do much of her daily upkeep herself. We just need to keep a watchful eye on her to make sure she is safe. And, yes, it’s very scary to see someone struggle with an affliction that we know could happen to us.

  16. She is very fortunate to have neighbors such as yourself to look after her. My mother didn’t really have that neighbor support, since many of the long-timers passed or moved away. My grandmother had a lot of neighbor support in Texas years ago, just before she had her stroke, and in fact, was found hours later by a neighbor when she had the stroke. Our communities seem so disjointed and cocooned these days, where few neighbors take the time to even talk to each other.

    1. It’s sad how little interaction there is in so many neighborhoods and communities. Having neighbors who enjoy spending time together and offer support to each other makes daily life so much more rewarding. I don’t know if it’s because people move so often nowadays, or if there is just less interest in taking the time necessary to get to know each other. I hope our neighborhood can continue to be engaged even as younger families are moving in.

    1. I can imagine that it must be a scary and lonely time for a spouse who is dealing with the decline of their loved one. Many of us will be there (in one role or the other) and, I’m sure, would appreciate a little support… if only someone to talk to or to give them a break them for a while.

  17. Sorry to hear about this, Janis. I hope Nancy and her family get the help they need. I live in a neighbourhood with many elderly neighbours. I’ve seen some of their health decline, or their spouses passed away. It’s tough to witness the decline. We form a group of volunteers to check in on the elderly, pick up their prescriptions, etc. Having caring neighbours is one of the main reasons we want to stay where we are.

    1. Oh, how I love the idea of forming a group of caring volunteers! So smart and, I bet, very appreciated. Since there are a lot of older people in our neighborhood, that could be an idea that works for us too. Thank you for sharing your fantastic idea!

  18. Hi Janis! I agree with the other commenters that Nancy is fortunate to live in a community of people who know and care about her. But I also agree that it is a conversation that more of us need to be having rather than pretending everything will always be okay. My mother was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and there was actually a medication that she began taking that helped her for a few years. She eventually developed cancer and that took her out before the Alzheimer’s did. Sometimes there are things that can be done. Sometimes, there are adjustments we can make. But first I think we must start talking about it. ~Kathy

    1. I absolutely agree with you. It worries me that her son says that she doesn’t want to talk about it, as if that’s the end of the conversation. The discussion cannot end there.

      I also imagine that a few conversations have started in the households in our neighborhood, as we all are faced with the realities of aging and memory loss. It’s interesting how the possibility dementia is a much harder topic to discuss than, say, cancer or heart disease.

  19. Another reason I’m glad we stayed in our home and chose not to move. Just last week, a neighbor knocked on our front door. He had lost his phone…and he was lost! Thankfully, we were able to help him get back to “normal,” but I found myself thinking…”That could be us one day!” Great post, thanks, Janis! ~ Lynn

    1. Your poor neighbor… it must have been terrible for him to be so confused. Thank goodness he knew to knock on your door, and that you were there to help him. I hope he has people looking in on him regularly. I agree about the benefits of living in a neighborhood for a long time. It’s important to establish and maintain relationships. We all need to look out for each other.

  20. Janis, it is hard to witness the decline. Both our mothers died of complications due to Alzheimer’s. My mother was a teacher and crossword puzzle afficionado. So to see her decline was sad. If you are a good friend, sit with her and record her stories. She will love telling them. All the best, Keith

  21. I have been reading quite a lot about dementia lately because I have a blogger friend who has been caring for a spouse with early onset dementia. Also, a member of my family (who has now passed away) had dementia. Your neighbour Nancy might not be aware of her difficulties. Lack of self-awareness is quite common with dementia. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, recent research suggests that it is possible to slow down the onset and progression of the disease. Recommendations include: maintain a strong social network; quit smoking; use your mind to learn new things; exercise regularly; and so on.

    Jude

    1. I think most of us have been touched by this terrible disease in some way. I hope that she is able to get the medical care she needs soon as I have also heard that there are things that can be done to slow its progress. Unfortunately, it’s up to her son… but we are encouraging him to move forward. In the meantime, we should all be doing the recommendations you listed.

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