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The Importance of Dementia Awareness

This is a heartwarming story with a lesson and reminder that each of us can be a hero and save a life by knowing the warning signs of seniors driving with Dementia and how to respond.

Janie is a Garner, NC resident and Director of Clinical Services at Carillon Assisted Living. Her experience working with seniors was put into practice to help a senior in need and their family the afternoon of August 24, 2016.

Janie was on her way to a hotel from a Carillon Assisted Living facility when she observed an elderly woman driving her vehicle erratically on the 440 freeway in Raleigh. Janie saw the danger and warning signs of dementia and continued to follow her a short time as the woman exited the 440 freeway to Capital Boulevard heading north to Wake Forest, NC. The woman continued driving dangerously and erratically until Jamie was able to get her attention while driving and convince her to pull over into the parking lot of an Auto Bell car wash.

Safely off the road and stopped, Janie spoke with the woman, asking her questions to determine that the woman was indeed in need of help, frightened by her dementia having forgotten why she was driving and where she was driving. Janie comforted the woman, letting her know she was there to help her. Over time, Janie was able to get the woman’s phone number from her and immediately called her family. The woman’s family were relieved and thankful to know their mother was safe and with Janie. They had called the police at noon and reported their mother missing. The police were at the woman’s home and had already started their search. Janie had managed to stop the woman in the parking lot just before 8 pm. The woman had left her Garner house in the morning to run an errand and had been driving for close to 10 hours.

Janie comforted the woman and waited with her in the lobby of the Auto Bell car wash until her family and the police arrived. Because of Janie’s awareness to the signs of dementia and her willingness to act quickly, the woman was returned safely to her family.

This story’s happy ending tells a hero’s tale, and serves as a reminder of the importance of dementia awareness and response. Janie saved the women’s life and prevented the women from potentially hurting other motorists by knowing the signs of a senior with dementia, and knowing how to act and interact with a senior to ensure their safety and the safety of others.

Identifying a senior with dementia:

  • A look or expression of confusion and fear
  • Body language that tells you that person is lost and afraid
  • Erratic movement or behavior

Acting and interacting with a senior with dementia:

  • Be patient, don’t rush them; it may take time
  • Build a bond of trust
  • Let them know they are safe
  • Give them time to process and communicate
  • Understand the information comes in pieces

How to help a senior with dementia:

  • Ensure their safety
  • Call 911 and your local police
  • Don’t let them leave you until their family and police arrive
  • Call the senior’s family member


  • Stay with them – Stay with a senior experiencing dementia. They may attempt to leave you. They may hurt themselves and, if driving, hurt themselves and other motorists.
  • Responses to your aid may not be welcome – Seniors experiencing dementia may have completely different responses to aid. Some respond with appreciation, some in fear, some with anger and denial. If the senior reacts in anger, aggression and denial, reverse your role with them. Become the victim. Ask the senior for their help and tell them you need them to stay with you.
  • Demonstrate the Golden Rule – Remember when you see a senior that needs help, it could be your parent that needs help and you hope someone would be loving enough to stop and help them because they are your parent and you love them.

Reuel Heyden | Director of Media & Communications
Carillon Assisted Living

Posted in Alzheimer's and Dementia Care, Perspectives on Alzheimer's Tagged , , , on October 5, 2016

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