My local paper ran a story about a woman who turned left in front of oncoming traffic. She was badly injured and it killed her friend of 30 years. She had been diagnosed with dementia three years earlier. I cannot imagine allowing Mom to continue to drive three years after her diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment.
Driving is not an easy issue. It is a powerful symbol of independence, mental competency and is routine for most adults. I never expected to have to “allow” or “not allow” anything related to my Mom. It wasn’t my place. Until now.
After two friends brought to my attention that they saw their lives flash in front of their eyes while sitting in the passenger seat of Mom’s car, I knew my family had to do something. We all gathered together for a BBQ and were all very nervous. The small talk before beginning our speech to Mom was ridiculous because none of us knew how this was going to go. We were all seated in the family room. My brother Bob took the lead, cleared his throat, and began.
“Mom, you know we love you. Do you remember how hard Dad worked all his life to provide for you and our family? We all miss him so much. He made sure you would have the means to live without him if he were to go first. He saved and saved, just for you. Remember Mom? Well, with one car accident, that money could all be gone.”
We all took turns agreeing with what Bob said, told her how hard it would be to live peacefully if she ever hurt or killed someone, and we emphasized how much we loved her. Mom was amazing. She agreed with everything we said and told us she would hand over her car keys. Our heads held high, our chests puffed up, we threw the burgers on the grill and had a great time.
There was, however, one problem. The next day, Mom had no recollection of anything we said about her driving. When I went to find her keys so I could take them, she looked at me like I was crazy. Back to the drawing board.
I didn’t know it at the time, but her neurologist had recently reported his concerns to the local County Health Department, and they in turn notified the Department of Motor Vehicles. Seven months after seeing the neurologist and having forms go back and forth, the DMV officially revoked her license. You can request an evaluation and a hearing to reinstate the license, but of course we did not. In the meantime, we took her keys, muddled along and her friends and family made sure she had what she needed.
It is a long process to have the authorities remove the privilege of driving, but it is one way to accomplish the task. You can blame them. Many sources say that the driver is best judged by the immediate family or the caregiver, but the physician can (and should) start the ball rolling. The law in California does allow for someone in the mild stage of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to drive, as long as they are not a danger to the public. The difficult part is knowing exactly when that is. The law is vague to put it mildly.
Some concerned people get creative and disable the battery or add a kill switch. Some just hide the keys. However you handle it, I guarantee it won’t be easy, but it will be better than dealing with the aftermath of an accident with injuries.
Here are some helpful websites with information on the subject of driving and dementia:
1. From the National Institute on Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/features/driving-and-dementia-health-professionals-can-play-important-role
2. Harvard Health Publications: http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/alzheimers-and-driving-ability
3. The Alzheimer’s Association, Dementia & Driving Resource Center: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-and-driving.asp
4. In California, the Department of Motor Vehicles website is http:// www.DMV.ca.gov. Search both “dementia” and “Health and Safety Code Section 103900”.