MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It can be the most difficult decision to make if you have a loved one living with memory loss: taking away their keys.
A Stillwater family we’ve documented for more than three years seems to have finally arrived at that stop.
Paul Quinn, 79, is a retired physician. His family has been candid through his own struggles with the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, a scary turn in his condition ended with a trip to the wrong house and a call to police.
The plan looked just as it has for years. A 30-minute trip from Stillwater to his oldest daughter’s house in St. Paul to go birthday shopping for his wife, Peg.
“The distressing thing is that it happened and secondly that he didn’t remember anything about it. And, I think it’s the first time that anything like that has happened,” Peg Quinn said.
“If others are saying it must be so because I’m not remembering it quite clearly,” Paul Quinn said.
But a few hours later, Paul Quinn ended up at his youngest daughter’s home in a different St. Paul neighborhood.
“That’s all we thought that he’d gotten a little mixed up getting over to my house and so she came here and they went from here,” Katie Mack, Paul’s daughter said.
A Facebook message from a stranger would fill in the blanks.
“I’m 99 percent sure your dad was in my house today,” Katie reads. “A man entered and said, I’m Paul Quinn. I told him he couldn’t come in and pushed him out and locked it.”
The words came from a woman who lived a half mile from Paul Quinn’s daughter, Katie. That woman searched his name online, only to find WCCO’s stories about his battle with memory loss.
“That’s how she tracked it down because he ended up telling her who he was,” Mack said.
Paul’s family put a GPS tracker in his Prius two years ago.
“He got lost coming home from downtown Stillwater at Christmas and that is something he’s driven for 50 years,” Mack said.
Advocates always warn against taking away the keys too early from someone with memory loss. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests getting professional backup first to support your decision, whether that’s taking an actual test or getting a doctor’s note. And, make sure there are alternative transportation resources at the ready, always approaching the subject in a respectful way.
“This is a onetime episode, but if you saw the two houses,” Paul Quinn said.
He doesn’t feel it’s time to turn in his keys.
We asked Peg Quinn if this has been a wake-up call. She said yes and they’re doing things differently now. Paul Quinn now only drives close to home and he’s seldom alone. He’s agreed to a driving assessment with his doctor.
“It will be a true loss of freedom for my dad which also means it’s a loss of freedom for my mom and I think that’s really scary,” his daughter said.
Sadly, it seems in a way they all know how this trip will end.
“I know that I have a solid family and great wife and family and we take things as they come,” Paul Quinn said.
Professionals also suggest relying on your parent’s peers to help make the driving decision go more smoothly. If other seniors no longer drive, ask them to talk with your loved one about the positives like not worrying about traffic or finding a parking spot.
The Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter and Mayo Clinic will host Meeting of the Minds Dementia Conference this Saturday at the Saint Paul’s River Centre.
Join WCCO for a look at Paul Quinn’s journey Saturday, March 3. Watch our special beginning at 10:35 p.m., right after the news.