One question I get asked on occasion is, “When should my parents stop driving?” That is such a loaded question and its one that is hard to answer unless I know a little more information. I think the last thing that the elderly have left, regarding their independence is their ability to drive.
That is the way with Mom. If I look back on her memory loss, I think my greatest guilt is allowing her to drive when I most likely should have stopped her sooner. When I say guilt, I will also add in my stupidity. I hate reporting patients that I feel should not drive any more. I know I have to do it, but it is no fun. They look at you and say, “Who are you to say that I can’t drive any more?” Even though, they have no clue what they had for lunch, missed medications three days in a row, and think you are their Mother.
I remember years ago, I took care of an attorney, in his eighty’s dying of lung cancer. For months, he asked me if he could drive and I kept putting him off. Finally, we set up a drive test at Courage Center and I knew he would fail, so we would be done with him asking. Fast forward a week, I get a call from him, he passed. I could tell he was over the moon. He even used his oxygen tank in the car. And you know what? He never drove again. He just wanted to show me he could do it. I know that he died shortly after that. I still smile when I think of him and his drive, pun intended.
I know that Mom was driving short distances in her small town and she had made a few trips to see me, using the slower route, Highway 55. She would always call me when she left and I would look for after a few hours.
On one particular visit, she called from her home and let me know she was on her way. I reminded her to call me in the office when she arrived at my house. I was at work and wasn’t necessarily looking at the time. I must have gotten busy and plain forgot. The office phone rang and it was for me. The Crystal Police. And they were none too happy. Mom had gotten turned around from my house in Plymouth and stopped at the Target in Crystal. She told a woman there that she was looking for me, and the woman called the police. All my Mom kept doing was showing them my business card and all I could feel was the guilt of now knowing she couldn’t drive any more and the tone, contempt, and anger of the police officer. As they should of. I drove to the Target, had her follow me to the office and then I took her home. She kept stating how sorry she was for getting turned around. I told her it was ok and we sat down and talked about the van. I told her it was safer for my brother to take the van, since he didn’t have a vehicle. She seemed accepting of this. I think she knew. I’m glad it went well, because it doesn’t always go that easy. Every time I go past that Target, I think of the police and that officer stating, “She shouldn’t be driving” all the while looking at my name tag.
My advice to you, if you are in doubt of your loved one driving, have them take a driving test. If not for you, for them and the accident they could cause. Memory loss, reflexes and just overall attention span is such an important tool with driving and needs to be assessed. Talk to your loved ones doctor. Normally they are great at explaining why they need to take the test.
The other day, Mom asked if she would ever be able to drive again. The loving daughter part of me wanted to just take her in our cul-de-sac and let her drive around slowly. I did come to my senses, but the thought was there. In the past years, since she hasn’t driven, she has become the best passenger. That is what I remind her of when we are on our trips.
If you are dealing with this…good luck.