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My father has never been easy for anyone to get along with...opinionated, demanding, headstrong and prone to temper tantrums. So I'm confused as to whether he has early dementia or his personality quirks are just more pronounced with age. Can anyone shed some light?


Four months ago, when he turned 90, he decided to sell his house because he was lonely and isolated. 6 weeks ago I moved him into an independent/assisted living facility in my town. He did not adjust well, did not make any friends, did not want to participate in activities—in or out of the facility, and called the place a warehouse for people who were just waiting to die. I did everything I could to make him comfortable and get him involved, but nearly everything back-fired.


The good relationship we seemed to have forged, after a lifetime of battles, eroded quickly. So I reduced my visits to 2 or 3 times a week. Two days ago, he packed himself some minimal necessities, took off in the night and left a dramatic letter on my kitchen table: he compared his "bad decision to move here" to one he made 60 years ago; he compared his "flight by the dark of night" to that of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Egypt, even though he's an ardent atheist. He would "not wait to become a spoon-fed, tail-wiped victim", and declared he "must follow the spirit of our Swiss ancestors, who risked all on a promising future that they would control".


The day before he left, I consulted an elder expert who, after hearing a few accounts of his unsettling behavior, memory lapses, etc., suggested I have him evaluated for dementia, recommended I obtain guardianship and definitely don't move him again. He had already talked of "going home". She said it takes at least 5 months for someone to adjust to an ALF, and that each move takes 18 months off an elder's life. He's been through a lot changes in the last 6 years:
1. Sold his house of 20 years in 2010 and
2. moved into ALF with my Alzheimer's mother.
3. Lost his wife of 62 years in 2013 and
4. moved in with a friend for 1-1/2 years.
5. Bought & lived his own house for 2-1/2 years, then
6. sold the house and
7. moved to ALF in a different state 6 weeks ago.


In an effort to keep him from "feeling like a prisoner", I returned his car 10 days ago...which he initially said he wanted to me to have, but subsequently accused me of stealing (a long story).


This morning, he finally called and told me he was about 500 miles from here, but hung up furiously when I told him everyone was very concerned and had been looking for him.


Hindsight is 20/20 vision. I can now see many mistakes I made during his transition, but at the time I couldn't tell if I was dealing with the same old craziness (as one sibling said, "What did you expect? He's Dad!") or a new medication side effect or dementia or what. I still don't know.


It will be a huge job for me to close out this chapter, an expensive fiasco to say the least. I'm not sure if I should begin clearing out his apartment or wait to see what eventuates over the next few weeks/months. BTW, nobody has any sort of POA in place for him.

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One other thing--after he left I found odd things in Dad's apartment: a copy of his Limited POA to Access Medical Records--in the garbage, hidden between the pages of a magazine; a note he wrote to another resident inviting her to run away to Arizona with him. No idea who she was or whether he ever gave it to her.
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Good news, access to his last contacts can be good news!

We know you tried your best. No problem. You are searching for answers with the small amount of information you have. This is in no way a failure on your part.
Maybe start thinking ahead what you want to see happen for your Dad, and how he can be happier. But also, for your own self-and a commitment that is doable to protect your own boundaries with Dad, thinking what you are able to give willingly.

Your statement: "I obviously underestimated him" may become the theme song to your caregiving plan along with your siblings. Take this into consideration when you stand by to help him obtain a suitable living situation. Start with his choices, what he wants-then go forward with what is reasonable for him.

You may only need to have more information, and advice from caregivers here...
many more will be along soon, just ask, you are a part now.
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Thanks everyone. All food for thought.
I should mention that I live in a small town in Oregon. Dad moved here from (and returned to) Arizona. Geographically, I am the closest family member to my father's home town, 1150 miles away. We have family reunions in AZ every year, twice this year because of his 90th birthday. I've realized that none of us spent a significant amount of one-on-one time with him for many years until he moved to my town, so any memory and cognition issues were not evident above the din of the crowd. Most of my siblings still doubt Dad has any problem other than his personality, which is why I'm searching for outside, unbiased opinions.

I'm still puzzled how the letter got on my kitchen table. Even though I don't always lock the doors at night in this small safe town, I was stunned at the possibility he had climbed the steps to my front door, because he could barely navigate a curb a few weeks ago. I obviously underestimated him, and had not brought him to my house yet because I didn't want an accident. I was still figuring out the best way to make my house more accessible with ramps, handrails, etc.

At the facility here, he chose the independent living package, which included only meals, a weekly cleaning and all the activities that he never participated in. I was the errand runner, the person who made doctor's appointment and took him, filled prescriptions, did his laundry, etc. Several doctors come to the facility on a monthly basis for the resident's convenience, and I took him to one of them twice.

Yes, the cell phone works both ways, and Dad has chosen when to answer it, whether not to return phone calls and how long to talk. His phone records show he talked to his friend in MN and my brother in NY in the last 24 hours. (I can access that info because I initiated and paid for his cell service the last 3-1/2 years, because he refused to pay for long distance on his landline.) I expect an update from my brother shortly.
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My mom's health improved enormously in Independent Living. The meals provided had varity that she was missing at home. The activities ( jewelry making, stick market club) were intellectually stimulating. She had a doctor on site thatcshe could visit on her own.
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Babalou, That is excellent thinking. Independent living-at least until the same decline in health, hoarding as an issue occurs again.
In support of Hengwen's efforts-Dad did greatly improve with the help of assisted living, so at that time it was what he needed.
Maybe now, he has outgrown his need for that.
Reminder, if he has a cell phone, the cell phone works both ways.
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One more thing. He might be beter suited to an Independent Living facility, rather than Assisted Living.
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He might have a UTI. If he calls, I'd casually mention that. But he does not sound like someone who is going to take being corraled lightly. I'm all for the hands off approach.
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I think I would take the advice from the elder law attorney and try to have him evaluated for competency and if appropriate, file for guardianship. Ask the attorney what other evidence you need, other than him having dementia. You can have dementia and still be competent. Ask what other evidence you need.

You don't have to be the person appointed as Guardian. You can ask the court to appoint a professional who handles those kind of things, if it's deemed appropriate Maybe he needs one for medical, finances or both.

Your dad sounds like he has some pretty significant issues and I wouldn't take the chance that he could be seriously hurt or worse, because of his poor judgment and inability to recognize risky situations.

Of course, you can do nothing but watch and wait too. I hope everything works out well.
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Recall some facts:

Dad greatly improved physically.

He was living in an assisted living facility, took off in the night.
But also left a letter on your kitchen table? Was he staying with you?
How did he get the letter on your table-when he took off in the night?

Do you know where he is now? Any plans to meet him?

Maybe there should be a new run-a-way hotline for elders?
1(800) Elder's grief....
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Hengwen,
Part of me wants to cheer Dad on, being independent enough to 'escape' a living situation that was, in his opinion, a mistake.
Then, it just cannot be 'all or nothing' thinking due to health, finances, and Dad's safety.
Taking an approach to support him wherever he chooses to live may help when he calls next time, by treating him normal, inviting him to come over to your house, always call you if he needs anything, and offering help to find a place he may like more. Saying everyone is worried can be like an admonishment from your kid. Keeping communication lines open will help him.
Finances for current apartment? No POA, unless it was you who paid and signed him up, it's all his-to give notice, to pay or not pay rent (you may find out when rent is unpaid when next due), all his to move out and retrieve his belongings.
All his, what do you think?
Relinquish control when you don't have control. Then, wait, be available, listen to what he wants, agree, get him to come to you. As in, "Dad, are you going to visit us too?" He may be closer than you think to you, a sibling, or his friend's house.

Calling you was a good sign.
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To cwillie: Dad may have a key to his best friend's house, where he lived after my mother's death. I know they've talked quite a bit, even though the friend has been in another state for 5-6 months. If not he's talked of returning to the same ALF where he & my mother lived, or a different more active retirement community.
To GardenArtist: I agree about the journey to self-discovery. But more than that is the increased confidence he'll have by succeeding in reaching his goal.
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Thanks for your input, GardenArtist. I believe you are correct about taking a hands-off approach. I'm sure it would be a miserable battle of wills resulting in a lot of resentment on all sides if anyone took legal action. I tried to give him as much space as possible before he left, but I think it was interpreted as the wrong kind of space. Two days before he left he pointed to the companion chair next to his recliner and said, "You know, no one has ever sat in that chair". Of course it wasn't true, as I had sat there for many hours right beside him.
I take some comfort in the fact that during the 6 weeks he was here, he went from living in a hoarder's dream house, using a walker, having frequent unbearable foot pain, skin infections and sleep disturbances, to walking without assistance, sleeping well, controlling pain without narcotics, eating healthier (although he complained plenty about the food) and getting 10x the exercise he had been for years. Time will tell whether all that continues.
You're right about not letting him know we're worried...concern is interpreted as an insult to his competence. I'll give it a few more days, but I'm coming to the conclusion I should go ahead and vacate his apartment here. UGH.
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After reading your posts, I was reminded of Jack Kerouac's book On the Road, and Robert Pirsig's book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in some ways journeys for self exploration.
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Do you know if he has a plan, or is he just running? Once he gets "home" what happens, where will he live? If he has a plan ask him how you can help, if he hasn't help him to make one. As much as you want to protect him and do what you feel is best for him you probably need to let go, the tighter you hold on the more he will pull away.
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I'm probably going to be in the minority here, but I think that you're recognizing the reality of the situation and also realize that there's not a lot you can do w/o his cooperation unless you want to get aggressive legally. I say this b/c you write that he's headstrong, and clearly his actions demonstrate that.

So, is there any way you can conceive of to manage the situation w/o becoming aggressive, and perhaps alienating him even more? Is that something you're willing to chance? From what you've said, he'd be very angry if you got guardianship and took over. Are you prepared for his last years to be ones of conflict, even if you know that he might be better off with someone taking control of his life?

I do understand the desire to reach out and care for him, but I also understand that some people just don't want to be cared for and want to live the end of their lives in a manner of their choosing. And I think you realize that.

I've asked myself I would do in your situation. I'd be stressed to the max, be inclined to take over and bring my father under my wing for care, but I would also know that he may want to go out on his own terms and I have to respect that.

You write of the changes in his life; perhaps that's due to impetuous nature, perhaps it's still creating stress b/c they are drastic changes. If the latter, I suspect he's going to want to find his own way to some more settled mode of living.

And, seriously, I do understand his desire to follow the spirit of his ancestors. I think he's on a quest, and needs to go through this until he either finds or doesn't find what he's seeking.

So, I don't really have any good suggestions, but I think you might want to give him some slack and see what happens. He may realize that he's out on a limb alone and actually come back more willing to be helped. I do think though that if you get guardianship, take control, and place him in some facility, he'll resent you even more.

So, looking ahead, how do you want him to spend his last days, and how do you want to contribute to the - either by giving him his freedom (unless he really, really gets in trouble), or by roping him into what he probably would consider a prison?

I would just be cordial and friendly when he calls, ask him to share his experience, but don't tell him family are worried.
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OK, I confess I actually wrote this question a few days ago, but just posted it today without the latest update on his progress. One of my brothers and I both managed to have very brief conversations with him in the last couple days. Last check-in, he was about 1,000 miles from here. By now he may be back in his home town, 1100 miles away. I've made that drive and it's not easy, so I have to give him credit for getting that far through some pretty hairy traffic.
There are 6 of us siblings, 3 boys and 3 girls. My Dad treats 2 of my brothers with considerably more respect than the rest of us, especially the girls. I've read so many nightmarish stories about guardianship on this website (the process, the expense, the conflicts) that I'm inclined to think it would be a mistake on many levels for me to pursue it. I do think my oldest brother should get some POAs, but he's 3000+ miles away, and all 3 of my sisters-in-law want nothing to do with my Dad. My desire to do what's best for Dad, to take control of the situation seems to be what provoked him to leave, so we are all definitely in that Bermuda Triangle.
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Yikes! So he's still on the loose? My gut feeling is that this is not going to end well. It sounds like you have some personality issues being made worse by the beginnings of dementia. My Dad has mild moving to moderate dementia. If my mom were not around as his wrangler I could see him doing something like this.

The elder expert gave you good advice. Many of us deal with the horrible Bermuda Triangle of elders who are legally competent but in reality have zero executive reasoning skills. I hope he turns up, is ok, and has not spent his life savings on god knows what. You may have to try for guardianship to protect him from himself.
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