Driving Miss Daisy
A good New Year’s resolution might be to solve the problem of an elderly relative who should no longer be driving. It’s not an easy task, and I can still hear my mother’s words, “Don’t you take my car away from me.” The car is not only the means to independence for most Americans, but it is also a symbol of independence.
When you start worrying about mom or dad hurting themselves or others when behind the wheel, it is probably time to begin the encouragement to help them come to the decision not to drive. Signs of unsafe driving are failing to observe traffic signs, driving far too slow or too fast for conditions, failure to find familiar destinations, slow reacting to traffic situations, or confusion while driving. For me, the big warning was after a friend had by chance ended up behind my mother on a day when she missed two stop signs.
It’s helpful to explain to the person what you have observed, and gently but firmly ask them to stop driving voluntarily. Arrange for family and friends to take them on errands. Let them know they are not a burden on others. You can have prescriptions and groceries delivered to the house. Make sure other family members are united in the goal and the approach. Other people, and especially the regular physician, can be very influential in arriving at a decision that does not seem to be forced on the driver with dementia issues. Your attorney or other family authority figure can reinforce the idea that driving is no longer safe. You want to avoid having the effort look like everyone is ganging up on the elderly driver.
If persuasion is not effective, and it is imperative that driving stop, hide the car keys. In extreme situations, I have seen family members disable the car so that it could not start. This is clearly a drastic step, as it risks angering the loved one.
In Connecticut, you can ask Easter Seals Mobility Center, in Meriden, Connecticut (203-630-2208) to administer a driving test, and this may convince the driver that it is finally time to stop. A client from Bristol once told his son that he wouldn’t take the test because it was in Meriden, and they would be culturally biased against him because he was from Bristol. The family arranged for the test in Bristol and he failed. He stopped driving after that.
The New Year is fast upon us, and “just one more year” won’t be safe if your family member can no longer drive safely. Miss Daisy learned to like being driven about, and so can your mom. Happy New Year!