It’s a Saturday morning and my wife and I are out doing our usual run of errands. We’re checking out of one of the better known big box stores when suddenly everyone hears a gentleman yelling at the top of his lungs, “Call 911!, Call 911!” This certainly caught my attention and I immediately went outside to see what had happened.
People were huddled around a shopper who was lying on the ground next to her demolished shopping cart. She was conscious and clearly trying to figure what had happened to her. I noticed a car with a small elderly woman inside, jammed in between two other cars that had just been struck — the driver's car clearly having gone out of control.
Apparently, this poor woman had hit a shopper, totaled a shopping cart, and caused extensive damage to at least three other parked vehicles as well as her own car. She was trapped inside her own car, which was pinned between the other vehicles. She told me that she had no idea how she got the “pedals confused.” It was very clear to me that this was a lady that should have surrendered the car keys a long time ago.
The first responders did a spectacular job, and I came away from this event thinking, here’s the topic for my next article. What do you do when they should stop driving, but won't? Denial can be a tough issue for caregivers and the loved ones they are caring for when it comes to making the decision of whether or not to confront them about not driving. No one looks forward to that conversation. Many family members have no sense that the writing is on the wall and that one of these days, on his way to New London, he’s going to find himself on Route 9 outside of Hartford with no idea how he got there.
Along with the serious challenges that dementia presents, other factors that should be considered, such as age, hearing and vision problems, and slow reaction time. I should also throw in their own denial and the fear of losing their independence. Remember, part of the disease can be the inability to recognize that what you’re about to do can or will put you in harm's way.
Taking away driving privileges can be traumatic. When asked once what it was like to be 82, the woman answered, “there are too many losses in my life.” Losing the right to drive would be another on that list. Having a candid talk with them about it can be the right idea with the right person, but not always. If that doesn’t work for you, then solicit the services of an outside source.
Their physician, optometrist, their lawyer, a friend on the police force, or even a member of the DMV. If you have no choice but to play hardball and simply take the keys and/or the car, make sure that everyone is on board. They could end up calling the police to report a stolen car or they might call their favorite mechanic to ask if the “broken” car is fixed yet. If the mechanic doesn’t know that they’re in the middle of a therapeutic fib, there could be problems.
The most critical part of this objective is to assure them that they are still going to be able to go shopping, to church or to the park. Losing independence and becoming a “shut-in” doesn’t appeal to anyone, so have a plan in place to ensure they don’t feel they will become prisoners in their own home. Use family members and friends who are willing to help them and you.
Questions? Email me at email@example.com. Join the Journey.
Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser and Alzheimer’s care specialist. His website is at www.careforcaregivers.org.