A wandering mind but not a wandering body

A photo of a missing veteran with dementia popped up on my Facebook news feed today, posted in hope that someone might have seen the man and could help him find his way home.

I pray he is safe and has already been reunited with his loved ones. Imagine their horror to find him missing.

I am grateful that this never happened to us. Joe was simply too debilitated from Parkinson’s disease to wander off and get lost. It was also the result of a difficult but deliberate choice.

The regimen of 12 pills a day that had helped keep Joe limber and able to walk for a number of years was turning his mind to mush. After he failed a driving test — twice! — and couldn’t remember how to fasten his seatbelt during a lesson, we demanded a cognitive evaluation. The tests determined he had moderate to severe dementia.

The neurologist warned us never to leave him unattended. He also told us to wean Joe off his pills ASAP. The medicine that had helped him get around was no good for someone with dementia, he said. After a difficult withdrawal, we tried several replacements and even brain surgery, but nothing did as much to improve Joe’s mobility as the verboten medication.

Finally, the neurologist said we could treat Joe’s movement at the expense of his cognition — or we could keep his mind sharper at the expense of his mobility. We couldn’t do both. It was our choice.

We chose mind over mobility.

Joe would never be able to wander away. And for a while longer, he would be able to share his worries, his joys and his offbeat sense of humor. He would also be able to understand when we told him we were only trying to keep him safe because we loved him very much.

And that was the best prescription of all.

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