Howdy, all! I am in transit to a long training today and am short of time, so just one quick thought. (“Quick”…tongue and cheek)
What on Earth do you do when a loved one is just showing signs of dementia…but insists on driving? This has come up recently a couple times and I would love your take as well.
First an important note: taking the keys can be absolutely devastating. The feeling of a loss of freedom, the reality of our frailty, and the big picture logistically can overwhelm your loved one and can cause anger, depression, or a host of other sad responses and should be treated very, very carefully.
What’s at stake? Not rocket surgery, nor brain science here: wandering is a very common facet of even early dementia. Driving can be an almost autonomous/auto-piloted activity that even those with dementia can perform with varying levels of success, but the navigation to and fro is much less certain. Getting lost is a very real possibility. High stress driving and breaks in normal routines can factor in getting lost as well. (Note: breaks in routine are routinely bad for patients struggling with the disease.) There are many other possible outcomes of a disease struggler driving, not even considering the danger to him/her or other folks. So, what can we do?
You may need a team approach to easing the keys away. 1. Start by driving him/her yourself when possible. If you have to, stretch the truth by couching it in something like ” I want to drive today”…or, better, “I need to drive today to keep my skills sharp”. Sometimes this will allow your loved one to save face, if he or she had already concerns. In the process, try out public / mass transit just to show it as an option. Encourage and love like crazy…more than ever…in this process.
2. If/when that doesn’t work, bring your concerns, with evidence and buckets full of love, to him or her. Ask if you or a loved one can start driving. Overemphasize that he or she will have the freedom to go when needed as much as possible.
3. If this doesn’t work and he or she is a danger, the time to act is upon you. Enlist the help of your doctor. A doctor, as a mandated reporter, is required to protect the patient and others, from a patient with a medical condition that causes impaired driving. By calling the DMV, they can start the process of requiring additional testing for license renewal. This process varies by state, so check with your local DMV for details. The doctor often has a position of authority and respect in your loved one’s mind and his or her opinion of driving ability will carry weight. The doc may throw in the truth that if reported to the DMV, your insurance may not cover a wreck by a willfully impaired driver. Sadly, however, the doctor may not be willing to go as far as necessary in this realm. If an eye doctor is a trusted source, they may be an option to help with this conversation. Same with an elder law lawyer, a pastor, or a police officer.
A couple of options, all unfortunate: hide the keys (and risk increasing already building anxiety; or, disable the car (more advanced for some) by one of many easily corrected ways.
I don’t love any of these options particularly because they are all tragic to many seniors and can lead to a downward spiral, but they are options. The bottom line: action is hard and necessary. I wish I had an easier plan…and I sure wish we could #EndALZ! Stinkin’ disease.
Any ideas you would like to add or other thoughts?
Update: Mom is struggling with sores again. I feel terrible that I didn’t notice that her sitting differently Monday was a sign of that, but they caught it Tuesday and are starting the process of addressing it now. I hate that this disease has taken mom’s ability to just tell me when something hurts. 🙁