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My MIL lives in a remote area in Northern Lower Michigan. She widowed about 10 years ago and since has a reclusive lonesome lifestyle, but says she loves it and is unwilling to admit that her health and age make her home and location too much to handle. We live about 4 hours south of her, so occasional trips to visit are possible, but frequent trips are not. There is no other family closer.


Recently she got lost driving to the store after dark. The Neighbor had to come rescue her after she stopped at a random house and asked for help. I have no idea why she left to drive after dark - which she normally never does. She is elusive on the details, and we believe drinking may be the issue.


We have contacted her doctor to inform her of the concerns, and are trying to ask a neighbor about getting more details, but due to the politics of the family/area we cant reliably ask the neighbor to help. Honestly I have no idea how to best proceed. Any thought's or suggestions would help.

My mom started getting lost while driving. She’d also lose her car and call the police and report it stolen. A kind neighbor called and told me that my mom was acting confused and odd. Since I lived a 1000 miles away I didn’t realize she was in a downward slide. Even though I talked to her 2 times a week on the phone I had no clue she was indeed in crisis mode. I went to visit and the first few days I didn’t notice anything weird about her other than her house was a total cluttered mess. But by day 3 when she let me borrow her car to go meet a friend, and within an hour I received a distressed phone call from her telling me someone had stolen her car, did I realize my mom has a serious problem. This said I’m confirming what someone else said on this thread. You have to spend more than a few hours to be able to diagnose the severity of their issue. With my mom’s situation, I ended up flying back home to Colorado, getting my affairs in order, grabbing my dogs and driving back across the country to move in with mom for a few months. That gave me the time needed to access her, get her to a neurologist, a lawyer for POA and find her a place to live in an independent senior home. I then cleared out her house, sold it and this helped give her the cash flow to live in her new place.
My situation was pleasantly unique because my mom wanted to move into a senior living place. She was extremely lonely living by herself, had some clarity that she was mentally failing and wanted to be some place safe. I placed her in independent living because she demanded I give her a chance to live an unstigmatized lifestyle. She lived that way until she couldn’t. The senior place was well aware of my mom’s decline so it wasn’t a secret.
If your MIL can use a cell phone, god bless her. She probably isn’t in dire need of extreme action yet. Cell phones are still rather recent additions in this world so people with dementia usually forget how to use them early in their decline.
I really hope your MIL just has cataracts. My very best to you and your family.
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Reply to LightFoot
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Someone is going to have to bite the bullet and go spend a week or 10 days to get a picture of what is happening. The biggest challenge is that she can do whatever she wants as long as she hasn't been declared incompetent in a court of law.

I think that seniors, not all, get scared of being seen as a burden and worry about being stuck in a facility. Most of them have habits that they believe will be squashed if they get help. Drinking would be one, however, I have toured facilities that have happy hour every night and allow alcohol in the facility as long as the person doesn't get wasted and create problems.

Having a talk now and seeing what the real situation is can help you do research to find out what is available in her area. It can also help you understand how she feels and to start encouraging her to think about living some place where the store isn't such a journey and other things that would appeal to her.

Michigan is a totally different system than the rest of the country, we have some experts from MI here that will hopefully chip in and help you get pointed in the right direction.

Hugs and strength, this is a difficult journey to be sure.
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Reply to Isthisrealyreal
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gdaughter Nov 3, 2019
Good answer; would only add that if you are going up for 7-10 day visit, that you try and get an MD appointment you can go to and get some legal permissions for access to health care info and POA if you can...and have a cognitive test (i.e. mini mental) done so a baseline is established. It sounds like she is very independent and you have no way to get her to do something she is not agreeable to...i.e. no threats that she will be moved if she doesn't A, B or C. Like no driving at night or the car is taken away...but at least you know the story/she told you. I don't know how things are different in MI, but every area of every state does have an area agency on aging which can share what resources are available to help.
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I disagree that the police won't want to be bothered with 'a little old lady'. It's their job to do wellness checks and be 'bothered' with all sorts of people they probably would rather NOT be dealing with! A wellness check for MIL is perfectly in order.

So she drinks and apparently has been for some time. Alcoholic dementia and  Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome are very real and quite prevalent these days. I work as a receptionist in a Memory Care community and we have a woman there who was found at the bottom of her staircase, unconscious, covered in blood, after having fallen down the stairs in a drunken stupor. She was then diagnosed with alcoholic dementia and placed in the facility where I work. She repeats herself incessantly, unable to remember ANYTHING, literally, and insists she's the only one living there who does NOT suffer dementia. Trust me, she does.

I think you have no other choice but to go visit your MIL for a week or two to see for yourself what's going on. Then make the necessary decisions about whether to sell her house and move her to Assisted Living or whatever you feel the next step should be. I would NOT be moving her into your home, however, especially having no experience with dementia..........it can be brutal and something ordinary people are NOT equipped to deal with. She would need to be seen/diagnosed/tested by a doctor, of course, but getting lost while driving is a hallmark sign of dementia/Alzheimers.

Best of luck!
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Reply to lealonnie1
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Worried son,

Lots of good advice given here about your situation. This will take some boots on the ground. You need to see what is going on, is it dementia or alcohol or both? Do you need to move mom near you?

I lived 12 hours away from my folks when dad started developing dementia. I put a GPS device on his car and watched his every move for 2 years. When he started wandering and getting lost I stepped in and ended the driving. Mom was already in assited living at this point and dad joined her a few days later. It was a kicking screaming mess but it’s what I had to do to keep them safe.
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Reply to Windyridge
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One of the advertising ploys of local ALs is to offer temporary accommodation over the winter, sort of an appeal to "snowbird" closer to home. Given her location I think it would be a perfect option for her and it might be the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to transitioning to more supports. Tell her it's for you, so you won't have to worry or travel in bad weather conditions - it helps that forecasters are predicting a terrible winter!
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aworridson Oct 31, 2019
Local ALs?
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Although getting lost is one primary indicator of dementia, not every senior who gets lost on a dark night has dementia and your "possible diagnosis" language leads me to believe no medical professional has yet determined MIL has any degree of dementia. I would also like to point out many seniors are still legally competent at the time of a dementia diagnosis, even one that includes getting lost. With no clear dementia or even diminished capacity diagnosis (being an alcoholic does not necessarily make an individual incompetent either) much less any statement of incompetence together with MIL's past resistance to moving and her companion relationship to the next door neighbor, I would be VERY CAREFUL in my approach and interactions with MIL. She could easily block her daughter out and choose to entrench with the neighbor, granting him POA and maybe even making a will in his favor.

I suggest making a Thanksgiving weekend trip to access the MIL's situation; perhaps you can arrange a Christmas visit to your home. Stating your concern over her falling or getting lost this winter, you might want to gift her with a fall detecting system (like SkyAngel911FD, $180 on Amazon) that works on cellular networks (but does not require a service plan so there's no monthly fee) where you press a button to call 911. Usually the built in GPS can tell emergency personal where you are but in some areas of low cell signal the GPS function doesn't always work. Because it's cellular based, it will work when away from home if there is cell service in the area. With a monthly service plan, it can be setup to call a friends list before or after 911, which could include you and local neighbors. If at all possible, get on the HIPPA list at her doctor's so you can discuss her medical status and test results with the doctor.

I would not discuss MIL moving at all until you have POA documents, a definitive dementia diagnosis and maybe even a statement of incompetence in hand. I recommend focusing on in home services or home updates to help aging in place; in fact, I would use that term "aging in place" as often as possible. A misstep here alienating MIL can have disastrous consequences at this stage. Decades ago a widow nearing 80 in my extended family developed a friendship with a good looking con artist in his 40s (describing him as the son she didn't have) and proceeded to give him everything: her car, money, possessions, and eventually her house. Until or unless MIL is deemed incompetent, she is completely free to gift her money and possessions to anyone she chooses. The next door neighbor coming over for drinks in spite of the fact his wife hates MIL may be establishing a similar relationship. He's there everyday to relieve MIL's loneliness while your wife is hours away living a life of her own.

You may want to consider hiring someone local to call and/or physically look in on MIL daily so you can better monitor the situation. I would not trust any report from the next door neighbor since he potentially has a conflict of interest.
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Reply to TNtechie
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This is scary. My Mom lived alone in the thumb area of Michigan also, and was found, lost,coming home from the store. In retrospect I don't know if she was lost or simply grieving for my dad who have passed away not too long before this incident. She might have not wanted to go home to an empty house. After much discussion with my children, we moved her into an apartment closer to us. It has and has not been a blessing, as Mum had to changed her entire life style, moving from a large house on acreage. But at least I know she is safe and she no longer drives. You might want to discreetly question your Mom's Doctor. God Bless
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Reply to Nonna5
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Aworriedson, As a relative newbie on this site, I am somewhat dismayed at some of the responses. Your post, like my first one, was brief and left out many details. My mom frequently got lost when she was in her late 50s and early 60s. She was not diagnosed with dementia/Alz until her mid 80s. There are some steps that you should take, but, based on your post, I don't understand the reaction of many that this is a crisis. So here are my suggestions (some of which you may have already addressed):

1) A visit, to do a first-hand assessment, needs to happen. concurrent with that visit, I would schedule an appt with her doc near the end of the visit. The docs assessment may very well require a referral for further assessment from a specialist...or at least that was our experience with our mom.

2) Start doing some research on devices to assist your MIL...a smart phone would likely have gotten her home, a smart watch can detect a fall, etc.

3) If not already in place, contact an attorney and get all the legal documents in place for you/your wife to be able to help your MIL when it becomes necessary.

Elderly care is now a big business. There are so many opportunities, but there are also a ton of obstacles. I am 3.5-4 hours away from my mom. My sisters provide primary care and I go down once a month for a week or so to give them a break. It is not easy when they are not close by.

Prayers and peace to you and yours that you'll find workable solutions for your MIL.
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Reply to SonOutOfState
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Invisible Nov 4, 2019
Agreed! Don't jump to conclusions but do visit and do give her a phone with GPS or some other kind of tool she could use if she gets lost again.

Good suggestions here.
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After my mom got lost driving in an area she has known for years and years, I knew things were not right.  It kind of made all of the other weird things that were happening fall into place.  Her getting lost happened on November 15th, by Christmas I made up some story about none of us needing any more "stuff" in our homes and that the gift of health was going to be our gift giving theme this year.  I scheduled her for a mental assessment and she went in for a dementia check.  Included in that was a simulated driving test which she failed.  In our state of Indiana, the doctor is not required to notify the BMV, so I sent a letter to the BMV telling them that she failed a simulated driving test and had been diagnosed with dementia and should not be driving..  The BMV then sent my mom a letter telling her that she needed to come in for a test.  My mom didn't even know where the BMV was...that is how far she had deteriorated and we just didn't see it.  She said she thought she drove just fine and I said ok then you won't have a problem going in for your test at the BMV.  Let me know how that goes for you.  She never went and I sold her car.  I strongly suggest sending a letter to the BMV.  At least you will know you have done your due diligence to keep her and others on the road safe.
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Reply to Jamesj
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I think you the know the answer, your relative is not safe in isolated area and needs to be moved closer to family.
This is the first time you know she has been driving in the dark, because she got lost.
My mom lived in a rural area where she had to drive to get anywhere, we had to move her when she had too many accidents. I lived 8 hours north of her and my brother lived several states away. We went to her house and told her she had to choose who she wanted to live near, but she couldn't stay where she was, it was not safe. Was she upset? Oh yes very much so!!!
We had a situation here, where an elderly lady was having memory issues, but her sons felt she was safe to drive as she only drove locally. One day she set out for the store and didn't return home, a massive search was then put on to locate her. Somehow she have driven over 20 miles from her home and got stuck in blackberry bushes in a very rural area. It was days before they discovered her car and her body was inside. I had thought often, when I hear stories like yours, how scared she must have been, no food or water and how long did it take for her to die. Her sons thought she was safe, even with memory issues, because SHE ONLY DROVE LOCALLY TO THE STORE.
Family members don't want to take some ones license away, how will they get groceries or to appointments, of course the family member is way too busy to take them.
Think about your situation, should the person be driving????
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