2017-03-16 / Columns
When you suspect a friend’s parent needs help
It had been a long time since I’d seen his father, maybe 20 years. Since then, his wife had passed away and he was living alone in the Midwest. He’d recently traveled to the West Coast for an extended stay in the desert and now was in our area for a visit with his son before heading home.
My friend’s father (I will call him Bill) looked great: trim, tanned and well-dressed. We chatted into the evening, catching each other up on our lives and activities.
It was during this exchange that it first happened.
Bill asked my husband what he did for a living, and my husband explained he worked for a corporation in the tax department.
At a lull in the conversation, Bill said to my husband, “So, Dennis, this must be a busy time of year for you with tax season and all.”
My husband’s name is Peter.
After my friend corrected his father, Peter said it always seems to be busy when you are doing corporate taxes, with mergers, acquisitions, audits and reporting financial results to investors.
About 10 minutes later, Bill said again, “So, Dennis, this must be a busy time of year for you with tax season and all.”
We chalked it up to a need to fill in small talk, and the conversation was quickly changed. (I mean how much can we talk about taxes at a dinner party?)
We moved to the dinner table. As he sat down, Bill said to my husband, “So, Dennis, this must be a busy time of year for you with tax season and all.”
Peter replied, “Yes!”
This happened two more times during the evening. I am not sure how many times my friend heard it occur.
On the drive home, my husband and I talked about Bill’s apparent memory problems.
I asked him if he thought I should mention anything to my friend, and my husband said, “No, leave it alone.”
But what if there is a cognitive issue and Bill gets into a car accident or has trouble managing his medications, I asked my husband. Either of those things could be life-threatening.
My husband said, “Your friend heard the same as we heard. If he has concerns, he will address them with his father.”
The next morning on my daily phone call with my mom, I told her what happened and asked her if I should say anything to my friend.
My mom responded, “Leave the poor man alone; he’s 90.”
I explained to my mother that I was not picking on the man. I was concerned for his safety. “I’m afraid if Bill does have cognitive impairment and he is living alone that he may cause himself harm—financial or physical.”
If the root of memory issues is not dementia, getting to the underlying cause can sometimes alleviate the problem. That’s a good reason to identify if something is wrong.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, only one in four people with Alzheimer’s disease have been diagnosed. There are many benefits to screening and diagnosis. Knowing is oftentimes better than not knowing.
But is it my place to point this out to my friend? I’m not sure.
What would you do?
Andrea Gallagher, CSA, is president of Senior Concerns, a nonprofit agency serving Ventura and western Los Angeles counties. For more information, visit www.seniorconcerns.org, and for comments or questions, email email@example.com.