And forgetting how to get to church and the grocery store.
And not realizing that her reaction time had slowed a few seconds…or a dozen.
Other tell-tale signs include not recognizing appropriate speed limits, ignoring traffic lights and stop signs, getting lost in familiar places and fender-bender accidents or near-misses.
But the big problem was that Mom didn’t recognize the big problem.
She thought her driving skills were fine. And the simple truth was that our family’s greatest concern wasn’t for Mom. To be honest, she’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness–Alzheimer’s–and faced years of diminishment. We had a strong faith that if she died, she’d go to heaven and see Jesus and finally be healed of her suffering.
The bigger problem was that if Mom had an accident while driving, a very real chance existed that she could be responsible for the death or impairment of an innocent person. Some child’s mother. Some mother’s child. A young man’s fiancee. A beloved friend. The grandmother who was raising her child’s children.
No difficult conversation or display of hurt feelings was worth the risk of someone else’s life, much less my mother’s life.
So what does a family member do when it’s time to take the keys away from a loved one?
Especially if they don’t understand, become angry, or refuse to cooperate?
- Assure them that you’re on their side. Reassure them that you support their independence and driving as long as they are safe and not jeopardizing the safety of others.
- Speak their language. What resonates with your parent? My parents had worked and saved all their lives so they could give an inheritance to their children. When we told my dad that risking an accident could put their assets (as well as their children’s assets) at risk for a possible lawsuit, he quickly understood the gravity of driving if his skills had eroded.
- Make a third party the judge. Physicians and driving assessment centers can play a key role on taking pressure off family members. Write a brief letter to your family member’s physician and explain your concerns about their driving. Follow up with a call and ask if they can make a recommendation for a driving evaluation with a local agency or the Secretary of State in your area. For help finding a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist, click HERE. Explain to your parent that if the agency determines that they are fit to drive, you will support their decision. However, if they are found to be lacking necessary driving skills, their license might be revoked or limited, or they may need to work to improve their skills.
- Offer options. Losing the independence of driving is an enormous transition. Discuss alternate means of transportation with your loved one. Research options in the area where they live. You may find many options available. Have them talk to friends about options they’ve found that have worked. My father moved to an assisted facility that was within walking distance to stores and restaurants and provided transportation to a large shopping facility to residents several times a week. The home was also within several miles of family members who took Dad out several times a week. A dedicated bus also took residents to a fabulous senior recreation center each week.
How have you navigated taking the keys away from a member of your family? What was their response? What would you recommend to others?
For more practical advice on tough caregiving topics, check out Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey.