I wrote in a recent article that my biggest conflict with Dad was when I took his car keys. It wasn’t pretty.
Why it matters who controls the keys.
An article by Connie Matthiessen outlines some of the practical and emotional issues that make the subject of elderly drivers so explosive. Mobility affects where a person lives, shops, receives medical care, and socializes. Loss of mobility represents significant losses, both emotional and practical. But regardless of how traumatic the issue is, it must be addressed. According to Joy Schantz, a national Mature Drivers Survey indicated that accident rates for older drivers may cause serious safety issues as the population ages.
Watch for signs.
The third warning sign of Alzheimer’s as listed on the Alzheimer’s Association website is difficulty in completing familiar tasks. This may include difficulty driving to familiar locations as well as problems in operating a vehicle. Caregivers must be alert to signs that their loved one is having trouble.
One of the first signs I noticed was when Dad ran into my car. I was parked in his driveway, and when he backed out of his garage, he put a large dent in my fender. It became scary to ride in the back seat when he was driving. He couldn’t make decisions quickly, and if he got confused about which exit to take, he stopped in the middle of the road while cars whizzed by at 70 miles an hour. When he began to get lost, I knew I had to intervene.
Enlist the help of a doctor or other professional.
I didn’t see Mom’s warning signs, because Dad did the driving when I was around. But he contracted a mysterious brain infection, and she did some driving while he was in the hospital. I thought she was doing okay until the day she couldn’t find her car in the parking lot. I drove her home, and on the way I held out my hand.
“Let me have your keys.”
She handed them over with a mild protest and a sheepish look.
“I just don’t want you to end up in Mexico.”
We laughed, and she never asked for her keys. To be on the safe side, the next time we visited her neurologist, I brought up the subject.
“You don’t need to be driving,” he said, patting Mom’s hand. “Your reflexes aren’t good enough. Just sit back and enjoy being chauffeured around.”
It wasn’t that easy with Dad. I hoped the State of Florida would help me out. Unfortunately it was way too easy for a man who had trouble walking up to the counter and getting his identification out of his wallet to get a license.
Be firm but loving.
When Mom and Dad moved in with me, we kept their car, but I did the driving. I had all their keys, and it worked for awhile, but Dad eventually provoked a showdown. There were tears, shouting, anger, even mild threats of violence, but I stood my ground. After the dust settled, I reassured him of my love and concern, and although he understood, he didn’t like it. Neither did I, but the alternative could have included an accident involving property damage, physical injury, or loss of life.
Help them maintain their dignity.
Dad continued to offer to drive, and I continued to refuse. But I did so in ways intended to preserve his dignity.
“Thanks, Dad. I’ll let you know if I get tired.”
“I appreciate the offer, Dad, but it gives me something to do.”
“I don’t mind driving. It makes me feel needed.”
From time to time, he asked for the keys to check the oil or look for something Mom had left in the car. I gave them to him, but I watched closely to make sure he didn’t try to drive.
Having THE discussion about the car keys is never pleasant, but a little advanced thought might ease the pain a bit.