Like the subjects covered on a t.v. or radio talk show, many of the topics I write about in these articles are issue driven. This installment is no exception as the recent stories of local elderly drivers going the wrong way on entry ramps to the Interstate suggested it was time to revisit the topic of giving up the car keys.
Do they get lost in what should be familiar places? Do they wander from lane to lane ? Do they get the pedals confused? Do they obey traffic signs, hit the curb, drive too slow or too fast or get angry and confused when driving? Have you noticed damage to the car or the garage or have they had recent accidents or received tickets?
I appreciate that it’s difficult to change roles with your parents. Now you’re the one giving the advice or instructions of what to do or not do. No matter how old some sons and daughters get, they’re still not comfortable in that role. When I was raising my two daughters there were certain times when the discussion was something to do with their safety. As fair of a father as I thought I was, I made it very clear to them that there were some discussions where the outcome was NOT negotiable. Issues regarding their safety was one of those areas.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. What wasn’t an issue this Monday may very well be front and center next Monday. In other words, if you’re worried about whether or not they should be driving today, they may be headed for an ugly situation that will help you make up your mind in a hurry; a situation that can impact them and others. Remember, it’s not just about them, it’s about their welfare and the welfare of others.
Safe driving requires attention, processing and concentration; traits that those with even mild dementia have trouble with. If you suggest they surrender the keys or get rid of the car for good reason, and they object, ask them if they would be willing to take a test to prove they’re OK. Keep it in the context of wanting them and others to be safe. This is where the non negotiable dynamic comes to play. Put your foot down and make it clear that until they do take that test, you’re taking the keys.
As for those that are not comfortable with this discussion, recruit a friend or professional who you know “has their ear.” A Police Officer, their Doctor, their Pastor their Lawyer. Remind them it’s about everyone’s safety.
History is full of horrific situations regarding elderly and bad driving decisions that did and didn’t result in someone being hurt. The woman in Connecticut that confessed she went blind while driving to the grocery store. She “felt” for the side of the road and pulled over. She waited 20 minutes, her sight came back and she finished her errand. Oh, she never told her Doctor about the experience. I’m just glad she wasn’t pulling into the store parking lot headed for a table of Girls Scouts when it happened. Then there was the gal in Jacksonville, Florida that was traveling on I-95 South. When she came to the split on the Highway where I-95 goes one way and I-4 goes the other, she became confused . Instead of pulling off the highway to figure it out, she stop on the highway, right in front of the “V” that divided the two Interstates. Considering the volume of traffic at that spot she was lucky to be able to move on without incident but as they say, “Damn!”
Their greatest fear is that, without the car, they’ll become prisoners in their own home. Assure them that won’t happen and get them to Church, go shopping with them and take them visiting. If you have to take the car, then do it but if you feel guilty? Remember why you’re doing it.
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