It never fails. Every time I give one of my talks to groups about “Understanding Alzheimer’s” the subject of driving comes up. “I’m worried about his driving the car.” “How do I stop her from driving the car?” Occasionally you’ll hear of a senior that willingly surrendered the car keys, much to the relief of the family and probably to the community as a whole, but that’s not how it usually works.
You may remember the article where I mentioned that the only concern one woman had when she learned she was losing her license was “you’re taking away my independence.” Even though she had put her life and the lives of other in jeopardy, all she cared about was “losing her independence.” She wasn’t being selfish or inconsiderate, she simply couldn’t process the concept of possibly hurting herself or others.
In many families, even though mom or dad are in their mid 80’s and their children are in their 50’s and 60’s, when it comes to telling Mom and Dad what to do or not do, all of the kids are still 8. “You tell her she can’t drive.” “You tell him that we’re selling the car and that he can’t drive anymore.” I’d like to be able to say this is easy, but it’s not. If you’ve noticed a few new dings on the car or you are simply aware from your own observations that your loved one is no longer safe then it’s time for Plan B. I’ve had siblings in denial tell me that at 94, it’s OK for Dad to drive because he only goes to the grocery store and he hasn’t had any problems…yet. That’s when I remind them of the phone call I received from an anxious wife. Her husband was on his way to California to help his father. It appears that Dad lived in Los Angeles but for some strange reason he was found on the side of Interstate 5 outside of San Diego (two hours South of L.A.) out of gas, with no idea how he got there. An extreme example? Perhaps but it’s still very true.
There is no shame in trying to have an intelligent, level headed conversation with your loved one about not driving. Explain that you’re worried about their safety and the safety of others. Remember, one of the issues your going to face is that they are going to suddenly feel trapped so you had better be prepared to assure them they aren’t about to become shut-ins. Have someone insure she gets to Church. Have someone available to get her to appointments. Make sure she doesn’t run out of food. Have someone take her to visit friends. In other words, assure her that she has not experienced the kind of loss she thinks she has.
If for some reason no one in the family wants to be the messenger, try the family Doctor. In many cases your loved one will look at what the doctor says as Gospel so when she tells Mom that they can no longer drive, often, that’s all it takes. If they continue to fight the good fight to still drive then you can always play hard ball. Remember that you are dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s so taking the car away and telling them it’s being serviced could be the answer. You can take the battery out of the car or disable it some other way but remember to let your local garage in on it so when Dad calls, they can put him off.
By one estimate, over 600,000 older drivers quit driving every year. Those are the smart ones. Individuals with Alzheimer’s don’t have that “brain boss” to tell them “this is a bad idea and that’s why your role as a Caregiver is so important.
If you have any questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.