Should an elder ever be left alone in a car? -

Should an elder ever be left alone in a car?


I just got home and found a note that my mom and her 24hr sitter had gone to the store. When they got back my mom said she didn't go in the store and apparently stayed in the car while the sitter went in. I bought groceries the day before so am pretty sure there was no urgent need for any essentials and noticed the sitter had no bags when they came into the house. I am upset that my mother was left alone in a parked car even if it was just for a few minutes. She cannot get around without the aid of a walker and has mild dementia, CHF, and is hard of hearing. It was cold and raining this morning as well. Am I overreacting? Or should this be a concern that needs to be discussed with the sitter? I am too annoyed to talk to her at the moment so am taking this time to get some feedback and advice......any thoughts or comments will be appreciated. Thanks!



deegeebee60, your clarification made a lot of difference. I, too, think that's it's good for the elder to get out, but if there's any dementia at all, then leaving her in the car alone can be an invitation to wandering. Since the caregiver has time to do her own necessary shopping, she should only take your mother if the weather is good enough for the caregiver to take your mom into the store with her.

I wouldn't approach her with too much anger - just go over the ground rules and let her know that if she has a need to go out for something that she is welcome to do it when someone can watch your mom.

If you like her otherwise, I'd tread gently. Your overall satisfaction (and your mother's) is primary. Still, the caregiver needs to know that what she did could be risky.

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Reply to Carol Bradley Bursack

The answer to this depends on so many things, such as the weather, the capabilities of the elder, the time in the store, and the character of the neighborhood. I don't have any concern about leaving my mother in the car when I go into stores for one or two things if the weather is warm enough. I'll be back quickly and she is still able to open and close the door if needed. If she doesn't want to go in, I don't make her.

If she were paralyzed or had severe dementia, it would be different. With severe dementia, I would be afraid of wandering or other confused behavior. But for other elders I would not be so worried.
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Reply to JessieBelle

I am not a big fan of leaving anyone in the car who can't make good decisions. That includes children and the elderly.

If the sitter is there 24 hours, when is she to have any time to go to the store except to take your mother with her? Sometimes you need things besides groceries. Is there some way that the sitter can have a little respite during the day? Maybe she could call you and plan a little break during the day for herself?

This is definitely something to discuss with the sitter. But don't be annoyed, be concerned that she works too many hours and this was the only or best way to handle a quick trip to the store. Maybe she just got a candy bar or something small that fit in her purse.

I'm glad that nothing bad happened and you are right to be concerned that something could have. Mild dementia is probably ok to do so, but there will come that day when it's not ok.
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Reply to xxxxxxxx

I agree with everything txcamper had to say. Around here someone will call the cops if a child or a pet is left unattended in the car, I think vulnerable elders fit in the same category. That being said, it really makes a difference how long she was left unattended and how impaired her judgment is. I used to allow my visually impaired mom to stay in the car when I shopped for groceries when she didn't want to follow me around the store anymore, but she had the wherewithal to start the car if it was cold or open the windows if it was hot. We usually did lunch out on those days so I didn't want to leave her at home alone. I question whether someone who needs a 24 hour caregiver is safe to be left alone.
Also in my opinion no caregiver should be expected to work 24 hours more than two or three days in a row without a day off in between.
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Reply to cwillie

Well, then, when you are out with your mom and she states a desire to wait in the car, what do you do? Can she, with her mild dementia, be trusted to sit quietly in the car. I have several personal tales I could relate that could have turned out much differently than they did. Sometimes it would vary from day to day. At this point, with MIL being in a wheelchair, it is very tempting to let her stay in the car. But I can't do it safely, so she either stays home or goes in with me. An exception could be made at 7-11 or the cleaners where I could see her at all times and only be in there a few minutes.

Thanks for explaining about the sitter and the scheduling. That does make a difference, with you and other family members being there. I do think you should explain to her that you are not comfortable with Mom being left in the car during errands, because she may try to get out and be injured, or well meaning people may call the police, or the weather may be too warm and the car too stuffy. Or any of a bunch of other reasons that there may be. You are the employer and she the employee. She should do what you ask of her, once she knows what that is.
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Reply to xxxxxxxx

I think only you can answer whether your concern is over-reacting or legitimate. It depends so much on your mother's level of comprehensive and memory. What would your mother's reaction be to "I'm buying one thing and I know right where it is. I'll be right back. Because the weather is so nasty, can you wait in the car for me?" If she agreed, could she comply? Would she remember what was said to her? It really all depends on her cognitive level. You are the one who has to judge that.

But, this clearly bothers you, so at the very least you should tell this caregiver that you don't want your mother waiting in cars, because of her level of cognitive functioning. Unless Mom's cognition is obviously beyond waiting in a car and it should be apparent to any observant person, I don't think I'd make a big issue out of this incident. Just make sure that rule is in place, for this caregiver and the other ones the agency sends.
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Reply to jeannegibbs

I've been caring for my husband with dementia for many years. We go to an adult exercise class three times a week. I run all my errands on the way home while he sleeps in the car. It's either that or his staying home alone while I use more gas and time making a second trip. We don't do this when the temperature outside is high. We've never had a problem. He enjoys being out and about as well as seeing what's going on in the world. As we drive around he likes to pay attention to the street names and tries to say what direction we're driving. If our dog is in tbe car, he has an on-going conversation with her about how far we are from our destination. We have our best conversations in the car. If we have NPR on, I explain what the report is about, and help him form an opinion. We also like watching the gas prices as we drive around. I see those trips as therapeutic. Go easy on your care-giver. Don't assume she's endangering anyone.
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Reply to rakshita

I will leave my mother in the car if I need to run into the drugstore. She is still of sound enough mind and does not wander. I could take her in with me, but that would mean getting her walker out of the trunk and moving very slowly. Something that would have taken 1-2 minutes would take 10 minutes and would involve a discussion about how she had to come in with me. Most likely she would tell me to take her home if I couldn't leave her in the car. Then I would have to return by myself.

Really we have to use judgment. Our brains don't turn to jelly when we become caregivers. :) I wouldn't leave a baby in the car, because someone could steal the baby. I wouldn't mind so much if they stole my mother. :D
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Reply to JessieBelle

I have a simple question. If store needs are necessary and it is the caretaker who must go to the store, what is she expected to do with the patient? Leave her home alone? Take her into the store (a bad situation)? Leave her in the car? I agree - depending on mental status, and physical too, it is not good to leave them in the car. But what are you supposed to do when a store visit is necessary and there is no backup? That is the problem that needs to be solved. And be courteous, calm and pleasant with the caretaker or you may lose her - and then what????????????//
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Reply to Riley2166

Why are you getting so upset? Just ask the sitter if they IN FACT even went to the store. A person with dementia is not responsible for telling the truth all the time. I am glad you have a sitter for your mother, and outings are good for her, perhaps not in the rain, but good to get outside seeing sights. Sit down with the sitter and discuss when and where you want your mother driven and I suggest putting down in writing all the things you want to say. Then have the sitter sign the document so it is a legal contract between the two of you. Then there can be no "misunderstanding" of what you want. Make sure the car insurance she has (for her car) or your mother's would cover both in case of an accident. I would also advise you to read more information about dementia at
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Reply to ferris1

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