This morning local news media reported an elderly man with dementia was missing from him home in unincoporated El Cajon. He had been last seen driving a red pickup out of town.
The good news is the man was found near the U.S.-Mexico border and is presumably now safe and secured. But reports like this one are unsettling on a couple of levels.
First, the border patrol officer is quoted as saying Mr. Heil suffers from "early-onset dementia." But he's 86 years old. Early-onset is a more rare form that strikes people under 65. What we suspect is Mr. Heil recently was diagnosed with dementia, which is much different.
But that's not what prompted this post. It's that Mr. Heil (and his family) knew he had dementia and that he frequently was lost and confused and yet allowed him to continue to drive. This made Mr. Heil a danger to others every time he got behind the wheel.
While it may be difficult to do, it is important that families come together to take the keys from a parent, spouse or sibling once they are diagnosed with dementia and especially if they display symptoms that could cause them to become disoriented on the road.
In July 2010, we posted some tips on how to do this. One tip we wish to underscore is calling your Division of Motor Vehicles and requesting an elder driver be retested. You can ask a physician to make the call if you can't. The driver is never told of the tip and instead receives a letter asking him or her to come in to their local branch to be retested.
Mr. Heil's disappearance had a happy ending, and we're grateful for that. But his case also serves as a warning that families - and neighbors if an elder resident lacks nearby relatives - need to be more heavyhanded when it comes to driving.