One of the most difficult things you will ever do is take away driving privileges when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Not long after dementia begins, does the cognitive ability to drive begin to wane. By Stage 3, most people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia can no longer meet the standards to be in-control of an automobile, three-thousand pounds of metal jetting down a highway. Little time goes by without an horrible accident reported because family members were too afraid to take away a person with Alzheimer’s car or drivers license.
And it happens at the worse moment in the process of their illness for the caregiver who is usually an adult child, struggling to learn how to “parent their parent.”
While you’re still learning to “parent” your own parent, they enter the stage of full-fledged denial.
- They no longer believe or even know the meaning of Alzheimer’s.
- If they don’t remember something you ask about the past, they are quite likely to invent their own history.
- Similar to dealing with a capricious child. There is no animosity involved, they simply invent what you want to hear because they don’t remember what the truth of the matter really is.
So any reassurances from them about how well they drive, and how much they need their car, and how others have praised their driving, should not weigh heavy on your conscience or decision-making to remove their car.
Remember that! What they tell you about their abilities behind the wheel are probably NOT the truth.
I thought I was very inventive when I slipped Mom’s driver’s license out of her wallet without her knowing. The next time she intended to drive, I told her she couldn’t because she had lost her license. “You always need a license to drive,” I told her, in an appeal to her strong sense of obedience to the law.
Without skipping a beat, Mom looked at me and said, “Well, you do know, the head of Motor Vehicles at the state Capitol is an old friend of mine. I’ve known him for many many years and, because I’ve been driving for more than 60 years and never had an accident, he said that I no longer need a valid driver’s license. I can drive without one from now on.”
Mom had been a good driver, but she also had 3 car accidents in her long driving career, and she never met any officials at the DMV. In fact, I doubted, seriously, she even knew his name. I didn’t. I bit my tongue to keep from laughing out-loud at this new story. But she was straight-faced and dead-serious!
“Okay,” I acquiesced. “I’ll call him tomorrow, just to be sure that it’s still all right for you to drive.” You never argue with an Alzheimer’s patient! Delay the argument, postpone what ever they want to do until tomorrow–but don’t argue. No one wins in these battles.
She smiled like a Cheshire cat, thinking she’d still have wheels for a little longer–and promptly forgot that she needed to drive the car at all that day.
Every day we had this same conversation for several months. She wanted to drive, she’d lost her license, but her “friend” at the DMV had told her she could drive without a license. I would call him tomorrow –
It always amazed me that Mom could not remember she had Alzheimer’s, or any memory problem at all- for that matter. She couldn’t remember grandchildren, nor great-grandchildren now, she couldn’t remember we’d had this same conversation about her drivers license 20 minutes earlier–but she always remembered that she knew the official from the State Capitol, which was a total fantasy of her own imagination.
She would tell and re-tell memories that she had invented, while she lost more and more of the memories that she had lived.
I was able to postpone actually taking her car for several months while we circled round and round the pretend story about her friend at the Department of Motor Vehicles. But eventually, she began sneaking the car anyway–driver license or not! And my brother took her car away to a safer place. Which she NEVER forgot, I might add, till her very last days.
We did suffer the issue of her accusations. ‘I stole her car to give it to my daughter.’ Or, ‘ my brother stole her car to sell it for money.’ Actually, her car sat in a driveway, covered and idle for the rest of it’s days but Mom never believed the truth.
It is painful when the Alzheimer sufferer accuses you falsely. We all shed many tears while we were taking Mom’s car away. I tried to keep in mind all the losses she’d suffered through the stages of this disease and be gentle in response to her pleas. But, I reminded myself also, that I had to ‘parent’ my parent now. Mom would never have allowed me to drive a car if I was a danger to myself and others.
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