Tuesday, May 4, 2021
I've had several recent opportunities to talk with individuals serving as primary caregivers for family members who have varying stages and types of neurocognitive disorders, including but not limited to age-associated dementia. One common concern in these conversations has been "that could have been my family member."
They are referring to news reports and body-cam videos of two officers in Loveland, Colorado in June 2020, as they apprehended, handcuffed, and took down "in a controlled manner" (the officers' description) a disoriented 72-year old woman. The officers were intent on arresting the woman following a report of her alleged "shoplifting" attempt of $14 dollars' worth of items at a local Walmart.
According to the federal civil rights suit filed on April 16, 2021, the actions of the police officers fractured Karen Garner's left arm, dislocated her shoulder, and terrified her. She was left for hours, crying and begging to go home while handcuffed in a booking cell, with no medical assistance offered or provided. One booking room video shows the officers laughing and commenting about the body-cam footage.
Such conversationa explained what many caregivers were thinking about when they learned what happened to the "frail little thing" (the officer's word), the 5 foot tall, 80 pound woman who had earlier been diagnosed with "mild" dementia:
- It could have been a lawyer's uncle, who has PTSD following return from tours of military duty and an IED injuty in Afghanistan;
- It could have been a colleague's father, who was diagnosed with FTLD causing him to lose inhibitions, sometimes involving confusing behavior in public;
- It could have been an older friend who recently needed help because she could not find her way through the "new" self-checkout system at the grocery store;
- It could have been a member of my family, as my sister related to me a story I had not heard before, about how our mother, distracted by a cell-phone call, walked out of a grocery store without paying for groceries and didn't realize that until after she had loaded them into her car;
- It "was" a man in his 60s with early onset dementia who wandered away from his home one night, only to be arrested for loitering and placed in a special containment area of the jail, where he was beaten to a pulp during the night by his cellmate (as I have written about before, here).
The family members were trying to articulate the tough judgment calls that accompany caring for a beloved adult with impaired cognition. How do you balance keeping your loved one safe with giving her freedom of movement. How do you avoid your loved one's greatest fear, of being "locked away" in an anonymous but safe "home." How do you find a reliable person to provide tactful "assistance" during days -- or nights -- or both, when you cannot be with your loved one 24/7. And how the heck do you pay for it.
And how do you do any of this in the middle of the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic -- or even now.
I was already struggling with my reactions to the videos of George Floyd and other persons of color suffering far worse at the hands of police. My struggles reflect, in part, my past experience working as the director of a legal team, representing municipal police officers accused of excessive force in the early 1990s.
I'll be thinking about this more over the summer. I expect I'll be writing more about this too. I certainly welcome readers' thoughts on what, if anything, can be done in striving for a better balance of safety and autonomy in caring for loved ones.
And, yes, I keep thinking about the motto once seen on the doors of many police stations: "To Serve and Protect."