Give Me Those Keys!

Vicky Bartholomew on driving with Alzheimer's for CareLiving.org
By Vicki Bartholomew

After the initial diagnosis of dementia, an unexpected hurdle may be breaching the subject of taking away a loved one’s driving privileges. In some states, doctors are required by law to notify the DMV when they diagnose someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s; which results in the revoking of driving privileges. Other states leave this difficult task to us, the caregivers!

It’s important to make good decisions regarding the safety and well-being of our loves ones. Talk to the their doctor and ask them to order driver testing. Many hospitals have driving assessment resources for those who have had an interruption in driving due to a heart attack, stroke or other accidents. I took my husband for an evaluation, and even though he thought he was doing fine, he failed almost every test. The young man who tested him kindly explained, ”Mr. B – You’ve had a wonderful driving record and we want to preserve it… but you are now taking medication that makes it more likely for you to have an accident, so we are recommending that you let your wife drive for you. Congratulations on driving safely for so long!” When we left that day, my husband felt good about himself when he got in the car with me as the driver. Of course, the next day, he was looking for his keys. I sold his car quickly and have always told him that he is a lucky man to have me as a chauffeur! He has not driven since.

A friend of mine unplugged the battery in her husband’s car and “since the car wouldn’t start,” she had her son-in-law take it to the garage for a “tune-up.” The car never came back. Another friend told her husband who had driven to another city while trying to go to the grocery store that his car was going in for service. It never came back because the technicians kept “finding problems.” A month later, he quit asking about the car and forgot all about it.

It may seem deceptive, but for people with cognitive impairment, preserving their dignity and sense of autonomy through these “half truths” is a compassionate alternative to the hard truth. Be wise and responsible. Find a gentle way to keep them off the road – for their sake, and ours!