Tackling the Driving Dilemma
Several years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by a local university which researches Alzheimer’s disease. The conference included a panel discussion with individuals diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
The panelists answered questions about their disease process, their day and their perspectives. I still remember one particular panelist. She spoke about her family’s support and then said, “There’s that situation with the car. They won’t let me drive.” She talked about leaving her job and then said, “There’s that situation with the car. They won’t let me drive.” She shared about participating in a support group and then said, “Then there’s that situation with the car. They won’t let me drive.”
Her memory problems seemed to disappear when she discussed her driving.
I have a friend who worries so much about his dad’s driving that he’s tied a tennis ball from the ceiling of the garage. When his dad drives his car into the garage and hits the ball, he stops the car.
Of course, his father really should just stop driving.
We just hate to give up the car. We also hate to be the one who gets between our carees and their independence–the car.
So, how do you talk with your caree when you worry that it’s time to give up the car? Some ideas which can help:
1. Involve third-party professionals. If you’re worried about a family member’s short-term memory loss but there’s no diagnosis yet, then get a diagnosis. Call the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association for a referral to a Memory Clinic or Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center. (You can learn more about ADEARs here: http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers.) The staff at these clinics can help with discussions about driving.
2. Drive with your family member at different times of the day. Does driving during the day seem okay but not at night? Many older adults will have a difficult time driving at time and may limit night-time driving. Drive with your family member on a regular basis so you understand how well your caree does and where and when the struggle to be safe takes place.
3. Have your family member’s driving skills evaluated. The Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (DRS) recommends an evaluation if you notice the following warning signs about your family member’s driving:
- Doesn’t observe signs, signals, or other traffic
- Needs help or instructions from passengers
- Slow or poor decisions
- Easily frustrated or confused
- Inappropriate driving speeds (too fast or too slow)
- Poor road position, or wide turns
- Accidents or near misses
Search for a specialist who can provide a driving evaluation on DRS’s website: www.driver-ed.org.
4. Research options so that your caree can participate in the community, even without a car. We love our car because it takes us where we need to go and keeps us connected to what’s important. Unfortunately, alternative transportation can be a bear to find, especially in rural areas. Begin the process early. Check with your family member’s house of worship about options so he or she can attend worship services. Call local home care agencies to learn if they provide transportation services. Start to use grocery delivery services. A geriatric care manager also can help you locate any services which may be able to help; find a care manager at the National Association of Geriatric Care Managers website: www.caremanager.org.
Finally, act now in a way that will bring you comfort in the future. Meaning, the days are long but the years are short. We can get so caught up in worrying and fretting about the day that we lose sight of the years (the big picture). You may worry about reminders and decisions which keep a family member safe. If you can move into the big picture, using reminders and making decisions which keep him or her safe, you can let go of the worry just a little bit.
How did you work through the struggle about whether or not your caree should continue driving? Please share your stories in our comments section, below.
- HelpGuide Senior Driving
- Liberty Mutual Senior Driving Resources
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration