Walk a Day in Her Shoes

January 18, 2012 - Trish Vradenburg

When my mother, as yet undiagnosed with Alzheimer’s, asked me to get a pair of glasses from her purse, I stumbled upon a traffic ticket. I sighed, knowing my mother’s propensity for speeding. I scanned the summons to find how fast she was going this time. Much to my surprise she had been pulled over for going ten miles-per-hour on the middle lane of The George Washington Bridge. Rather than cutting off traffic, she had been virtually leading a parade of cars at a snail’s pace. Horns were blaring, but my mom thought there was a party going to a wedding reception. You have to understand that this was a woman who could have given Mario Andretti a run for his money.

Most people will tell you that the worst day for a person with Alzheimer’s disease is the day they are asked to give up their keys because it is no longer safe for them to drive. I remember the day vividly because I was the one who had to ask my mom for her keys. Normally, of course, that would have been my dad’s domain, but he already had been reduced to villain status in my mom’s mind. She saw him as the person who wouldn’t let her go to the bank to check her safety deposit box three times a day; the person who had put up a post-it on the dishwasher so she wouldn’t fill it with newspapers; the man who at night looked like different men – all evil, all trying to rob her of the $100 she had hidden.

When I told her I would have to take her keys for her own safety and the safety of others, she adamantly told me that she didn’t care if anyone drove with her; she was not going to be stopped from driving. It was a free country and she would not be ruled by this dictatorship. It went downhill from there, dissolving into tears, then shouting by my dad, then sobbing. But, eventually, after pleading and threatening and then joint crying, she relinquished the keys.

And so we went on with our lives while she seemed to stop hers. The depression was profound. We finally prevailed on her to take anti-depressants. As soon as the pills did their job, Mom found other means of getting around: her feet.

“No one is taking these away from me,” she announced triumphantly. And so began our searches for my mom. She could always get somewhere – which in itself was amazing since she had no idea where she had gone or where she was from. All the different IDs we put on my Mom were removed by her since they “spoiled her outfits.” One thing that never left was her sense of style. Thank goodness the 8” platform heels of today weren’t in vogue or she would certainly have fallen and broken her hip years earlier than she actually did.

Thus, our life turned into searching for her in supermarkets, department stores, the park and her hairdresser. It was exhausting and worrisome. Finally Mom agreed to carry a card with her name, address and telephone number. We heaved a tentative sigh of relief.

So today, 20 years after she died, I read about this amazing product that has just come on the market: shoes with a GPS built in so the caregiver can stay on top of the Alzheimer’s patient’s exact location. It takes a little tech ability, but once you can find those coordinates, or assign it to someone with computer savvy (pretty much any 9-year-old), you can find the patient tout-de-suite. The GPS Smart Shoe could be a life saver. The one drawback is that they all look like sneakers. I’m guessing they were designed by a man. If my mom had worn them, they would have had to have a little heel. And a platform couldn’t hurt. Maybe a chic color for flair. I guess that all could be for the next incarnation.

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