A guide to helping an aging parent transition from driver to passenger due to age-related issues. Dementia/Alzheimer’s
It’s Friday night. I’m getting ready to dig into chicken wings smothered in nuclear hot sauce and a cold beverage. Bite one, mid-chew, with sauce already everywhere, my cell rings. It’s my aunt and my heart stops. I jump up to wash my hands, almost knocking my wings off the table. I need to get this call. I want to make sure everything is okay.
Before I utter, “Hello.” I hear her frantic voice, “Butch! Butch! Butch!” she calls my name in quickly, hurried breaths. “Your mom found my car keys! She took ‘em from the candy bowl.” She takes a deep gulp of air. “She’s gone!”
Losing and hiding keys are now routine for Momma. Anxiety explodes in my chest. WTF? Only I’m thinking the real words, not the initials. Mom’s gone? Driving? How did this happen?
Panic rises as worst-case scenarios invade my thoughts. The words “What if?” flood my mind. What if we can’t find her? What if her foot hits the gas instead of the brake? What if she gets robbed?
“I’ll be right over,” I say in a calm voice, although I’m anything but; I’m a basket of nerves as I rush around the house grabbing my keys and jacket.
On the drive over, I take a deep breath, trying to regain my equilibrium. My eyes dart up and down the streets scouring the area any sign of Momma.
I arrive at my aunt’s house, no car in sight, no momma. I rally the neighbors. A quick whisk through a few blocks produces nothing; we widen our perimeter as I call 911.
Out on the hunt, expanding our search by the minute, I get a call from my aunt. “She’s here!”
Thank God! No accident! All is good. She’s safe and sound.
Back at aunt’s house and the stories begin. She claimed she needed to drop off papers at a nearby friend’s and pick up some documents from another. At 11:00 p.m.?
This was the final straw! Prior to this, I had tried and failed, to convince Momma to relinquish her keys. Each time she’d given me an indignant huff. “I’ll just buy a new car,” she would inform me.
Instead, she commandeered my aunt’s car and did her thing.
We installed key boxes because everything needed to be locked up. And now, now the games began. #takemomaskeys,
I got off lucky. I’ve heard horror stories. I mean, let’s face it, riding shotgun sucks when you’ve been the one shimmying your butt into the driver’s seat for 75 years.
Taking the keys away from an aging parent is never easy. Add dementia or Alzheimer’s to the mix, and you can throw reasoning out the window. Fingers crossed your #TakeMommasKeys experience, when the time comes, will be easier than you anticipate. In the meantime, you should be preparing yourself for that day
How do you know when it’s really time? One “drove the car into a ditch” debacle may not be enough to halt driving, but use this as a springboard for the #takeMommaskeys discussions.
Tips for taking Mommas keys:
It’s a process – Avoid an abrupt decision. Start out slow. Discuss friends, relatives, or news stories of aging drivers and their accidents, fender-benders or near misses. The more time your parent has to warm to the idea, the better.
Proposed limits – Early stages of dementia aren’t always cause to ground Momma. Encourage your parent to avoid driving at night, during inclement weather or for long distances. These limits will force your parent to make schedule changes and reduce road time, thus making the eventual time easier to accept.
Enroll her in refresher driving courses – Not only will this make her better driver before she parks her car for good, but both of you will be for familiar with ensuing warning signs. Check out AARP Smart Driver Courses or AAA senior driver courses, which can provide auto insurance discounts.
Driving Miss Daisy – Offer to drive her on occasion. Chauffeuring her around allows her to become accustomed to being the passenger instead of the driver.
Ask Momma herself – The earlier the better. What signs does she think signal no driving?
What about when dementia has robbed her of reasoning, and she thinks she’s fine? OR worse, you’re out to sabotage her?
Enlist the help of all family members – she can’t avoid the subject if all her children are on the same page. Plus, this helps to defuse her efforts of pitting one sibling against another.
Talk to her doctor – Express your concerns with her physician. Cite her recent car dings and other exhibited warning signs (listed below). Also, if you’re preparing a ‘case’ consider downloading the following (http://www.bu.edu/alzresearch/research/driving/at_the_crossroads/) Scroll down to Driving Warning Signs Worksheet. Having incidents documented helps put everything in perspective.
Challenge her to take a test – If Momma is adamant about not giving up her keys, bring her to the DMV for a license assessment. The results provide you with concrete proof of your speculations. There’s no arguing with the government. If the DMV refuses to renew your Momma’s license, then you are no longer the ‘enemy’.
Install Key boxes: Any location she frequents is Open Season for picking up and losing keys. Everyone’s keys are in jeopardy. Trust me! Several times a day! #takemomaskeys,
University of Virginia HealthSystem’s website lists the following warning signs a loved one should relinquish her keys:
- Incorrect signaling
- Trouble navigating turns
- Moving into a wrong lane
- Confusion at exits
- Parking inappropriately
- Hitting curbs
- Failing to notice traffic signs
- Driving at inappropriate speeds
- Delayed responses to unexpected situations
- Increased agitation or irritation when driving
- Scrapes or dents on the car, garage or mailbox
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Near misses
- Ticketed moving violations or warnings
- Car wrecks
- Confusing the brake with the gas pedal
- Stopping in traffic for no apparent reason
It’s never an easy decision to #takemommaskeys. After all, so much of her daily life is caught up in her freedom to jump behind the wheel and head to church, the store, her women of color meeting, etc. Expect her to be angry and vent her frustrations at you, the messenger now turned driver. But it’s nothing that time won’t heal.
Be Strong, Just because you’re her favorite, doesn’t mean you’re exempt from being called everything but the child of GOD!
Future blog post: Caregiving for the Care Giver (Avoid Burn Out, Frustration, Health Issues).