This post comes to you courtesy of someone who is highly familiar and experienced with the difficult subject of driving and dementia. Her name is Meredith Lyons, OTR/L, DRT… and she is awesome.
The Bad Guy
No one wants to be the bad guy in the family. However, when dealing with driving and a parent with dementia, it is inevitable. Dementia is a horrible condition. It leaves family members to provide care to their parents who are no longer acting like their parents. They fight back, are unreasonable at times, and sometimes have a completely different personality than they did prior to the disease. So when your mom, who lives in North Carolina, says she is going to drive to Ohio to visit her sister, how do you communicate your concerns for her safety in the absence of reason and insight?
The Reasonable Arguments
- “Mom, you are 88 years old. I am concerned about such a long trip without anyone coming with you.”
- “Mom, you have trouble remembering that you went to the grocery store and went three times today. I am concerned you will forget where you are going.”
- “Mom, your sister no longer lives in Ohio.”
Sometimes reasonable conversations are impossible in the presence of dementia. In fact, they can lead to heated arguments. When a person’s memory is impaired, the same argument is likely to happen again on another day.
What do you do? You are ready to pull your hair out. You have already cried. Surely your blood pressure is through the roof, and you just can’t do this by yourself anymore.
First off, you are not alone. There are thousands if not millions of other people having similar discussions with their family and friends. They are having some of the same difficulties that you are having. Seek outside help. Look up your state’s DMV medical advisory board. Most states have them. Some states are self reporting for medical conditions, like Maryland, and some are physician reporting, like Pennsylvania . In some states the MVA/DMV will retest driving skills upon request from physicians.
Another option is to have a Comprehensive Driving Evaluation completed by a driving rehabilitation specialist. The evaluation is typically completed by an Occupational Therapist who specializes in driving rehabilitation.
Comprehensive Driving Evaluations assess a person’s ability to drive and determine if aging or a medical condition have affected the skills needed for a person to drive safely. Typically the evaluations are both in the clinic, for assessing cognitive, visual and physical skills, then on the road for putting it into practice in real life scenarios.
The driving rehab specialist can be the bad guy. The driving specialist is the objective third party who specializes in this area. The DRS can recommend that the client, your mom, retire from driving. They will also help lead the discussion and assist with recommendations for safe alternative transportation.
Tips for Retiring from Driving
So now that your mom has “retired” from driving and has been given the news by the third party everything is just perfect right? Well, sometimes things are great for a while, and sometimes not. Now what do you do?
1. Remove their vehicle.
2. Remove access to any vehicles; riding lawnmowers, golf carts etc.
3. Distract and change the conversation away from driving. There is very little that can be accomplished from continuing the argument with a person who has lost the cognitive ability to have good reasoning and judgment skills.
4. Provide realistic transportation options. Set a schedule for transportation. Tell her, “Every Wednesday I will be available for shopping. Mom, if we don’t need to go anywhere then I will still come over and spend time with you.”
Locate a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist near you at the American Occupational Therapy Association or The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.
If you’d like to ask Meredith a question about dementia and driving, reach her at MLyons@BakerDrivingRehab.com