It’s not their fault, but people with Alzheimer’s should not be driving. I know that is not a popular position, and there are probably a few situations when the disease is still in the early stages, that driving might be okay. But the question is this, why take the risk?
You see, it’s rare that doctors stumble upon Alzheimer’s Disease as they are doing a routine check up or testing for some other ailment. So, when patients are diagnosed, it’s because they have already exhibited symtoms that have caused them or someone close to them a level of concern. Whether it’s getting lost, a lapse in judgement, confusion or extreme forgetfullness, all of these are reasons to take the car keys and make other arrangements.
THAT is much easier said than done. Driving represents independence and freedom. It is one of the first “grown up” things we get to do as teenagers. It is saddening, to say the least, when you have to take the keys away. But look at it this way, either you take (or pry) the keys away or there might be a serious, even fatal accident. Research shows that, “Three out of ten people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease had been involved in a serious car accident in the previous few months.” (The Alzheimer’s Sourcebook for Caregivers, Frena Gray-Davidson)
It’s difficult for the caregiver, too. As you want to allow and encourage as much independence as possible. You are proud that granny is 75 and still driving, but you have observed enough and perhaps used your passenger side brakes enough to know that its time for granny to stop driving.
First of all, it may help to talk about giving up the keys BEFORE it actually happens, that way there are no surprises. Maybe you could even come up with a timeframe or some parameters for when its time to give up driving. We’ll look at some specifics regarding giving up the wheel in another post. In the meantime though, keep the lines of communication open.
Make a plan. What is going to happen once granny gives up her keys? Who is going to take her to the grocery store? How will she keep her Doctor’s appointments? Who will get her to the Thursday night card game, etc. It’s very important that the schedule is interrupted as little as possible. Enlist family and friends to chip in and make sure she isn’t stuck and in need of a ride. Consider other options, many cities offer free or very inexpensive transportation for seniors.
Ultimately, you may need help. If granny won’t voluntarily give up the keys, you might have to enlist the help of her doctor who can send a letter to the state licensing bureau. If the doctor indicates that your grandmother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and should not be driving, they should take the proper measures.
In the end, its up to you as the caregiver to take the lead and make sure that you, your loved one and other drivers are as safe as possible. Your family and loved one have to be able to trust you to make the hard decisions as well as the easier ones.