Driving and Memory Loss: Having the Conversation


 
Driving is a symbol of independence in our society. When memory loss occurs, it can create dangerous situations where the person may become lost or end up hurting themselves or others in the process.

While no one relishes the thought of discussing this issue with an elderly loved one, the time comes when we can no longer avoid the reality created by the loved one's memory loss. It can be tough to balance the person’s dignity with safety.

If your loved one is experiencing any of the following, it's time to have the conversation:

  1. Forgetting how to locate familiar places
  2. Failing to observe traffic signs
  3. Becoming angry or confused while driving
  4. Unexplained dings or dents on the vehicle

If you observe any of  these situations, what should you do? Being proactive is critical.

  • Address the issue early on rather than waiting for something bad to happen.
  • Drive with the person frequently to gauge how they are managing.
  • Gently ask the person, “If you were no longer able to drive, how would we handle it?”
  • Then ask yourself, “Would I trust her to transport a child?”
  • Look for leads in their own self-limiting behaviors. Have they begun to give up night driving, staying close to home or traveling solely to frequented locations?

When addressing the topic with your elderly loved one, it's important to have realistic expectations.

  • Don't assume that your loved one will have proper insight or good judgment. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias impede a person’s ability to reason and negotiate. 
  • Avoid confrontation. Do not expect the person to remember their blunders or near-misses.
  • Use kindness and compassion. Be sensitive to the person’s needs and feelings.

Planning for the discussion gives you the best chance of a good outcome.

  • Find the best time and the best person to have the discussion.
  • Expect some resistance.
  • Remove the emphasis of blame from him and instead focus on safety.
  • Avoid common pitfalls like convincing, coercing, scolding or threatening. These approaches will be ineffective and instead will put you at odds with your person.
  • Use "I" statements that focus on your concern about your loved one 
    • “I need to make sure you are safe.”
    • “I want to make sure others are safe.”
    • “I care about you and don’t want anyone to be hurt.”

A few other tips:

  • Play upon your loved one's value system to reinforce the point. His or her concerns about finances, liability issues, insurance coverage, safety or being a responsible citizen may help leverage your point.
  • Try blaming external elements like aggressive drivers, intense traffic, poor weather conditions, increased road construction, high insurance costs or medications that can interfere with abilities.
  • Consider speaking with the medical provider privately about your concerns and request they be the one to approach the subject. If the person refuses to address the issue, encourage the medical provider to complete a Department of Transportation Driver Condition Report.
  • Come up with solutions to help soften the discussion. Explore transportation options through public, ridesharing or volunteer services. Enlist help from family, friends and neighbors for rides or carpooling to get the person where they need to go.  

Recognize that giving up driving is difficult for anyone. Remember, like you, your loved one did not ask for this problem. In many cases, using a gentle, compassionate, yet firm approach can go a long way. Careful planning coupled with patience, will help both you and your loved one work together to find safe and suitable solutions.

Questions about an elderly loved one's care? Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law may be able to help. Just give us a call at 615.824.2571.

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