I recently renewed my Drivers License, and went through the process of obtaining a Real ID. I guess I get it but having been born here, educated here, served in Viet Nam, married here, fathered two beautiful daughters that were born here, worked and paid taxes here since I was in 8th grade delivering newspapers and have owned my own home(s) here since 1974, I still had to prove I was who I said I was. So what does this have to do with dementia? After I was found worthy to get my new license/REAL ID, I was surprised by one question that the gal asked me. “Would you like this license to be good for 8 years? In the interest of full disclosure, last June, I celebrated my 76th Birthday and as an Alzheimer’s Care Specialist, I found myself asking if anyone over the age of 75 should have a drivers license that will be valid for 8 years? Myself included.
Ask most seniors and they’ll tell you that as they get older the losses in their lives are adding up. They aren’t as athletic as they once were so no more tennis or golf, they can’t eat the same foods they could when they were younger, maybe they’re no longer able to travel. They don’t hear as well, many don’t see as well and their driving skills may have deteriorated resulting in them giving up the car; you hope.
Getting your loved one to give up access to their car can and will be a huge deal for many families to deal with. First let’s look at some signs it “might be time.”
Are there new dents and scratches on the car? Do they have bad driving habits? Are there vision issues? Does driving cause them to be stressed or confused? Do they avoid night driving? Have they had a few to many close calls? Are others afraid to drive with them? Or are they getting lost? On this last point, I’m reminded of a gentleman that used to drive down to the local grocery store and back without incident. His family was aware of his memory deficits but were comfortable with this because there was never a problem. Then one day they got a phone call from the Police in a town 2 hours away. He was found on the side of the road, out of gas with no idea how he got there.
If they aren’t willing to surrender the keys to the car and stop driving there are steps you can take to keep them and everyone else safe. Take advantage of the forgetfulness they have and hide or “lose” the car keys. Have a friend or family member “borrow” the car and get it out of sight. Tell them it’s in the shop getting repaired but make sure your mechanic is in on the therapeutic fib in case they call him or her. You can disable the car by disconnecting the battery. Or you can outright sell the car. Remember to also hide your car keys. I should mention that a kinder more gentle approach would be to have the family doctor, family attorney or even a Police man or woman that they know and trust tell them it’s time to stop driving. If they have “their ear” sometimes that’s all it takes but don’t be afraid to play hardball.
Their greatest fear with this issue is losing their independence so assure them they are not going to become “shut-ins.” Better yet, show them. Get them to the store, to Church, The Senior Center or that friends house. Continue to maintain as normal a schedule for them as possible.
We all have to make adjustments in life as we age to a number of things. Deciding to stop driving before an incident forces us to is certainly one of them.
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