How to Get an Aging Parent Off the Road
by Tracy E. Hill, Ph.D.
I think at some point we all have the nagging suspicion that our mother or father isn’t safe to drive anymore—unsafe not just for the parent but for other people on the road as well. Over the past several months, I’ve heard the same mantra from several doctors including geriatricians, cardiologists and primary care physicians: “Even people with dementia can drive.” Well, I’m sure they can. So can a twelve-year-old if they can reach the gas pedal! This I know from experience. My dear childhood friend, Jill Liberman, can attest that, although I really had to stretch, I did in fact reach both the gas and brake pedals at the perfect driving age of twelve.
In our quest to get Mom off the road, we first contacted the local police department after my mother ran a red light and put three people in the hospital.
Chief Nicoletti of the Lower Saucon Police Department was flabbergasted when I told him, “I think my mom was the one who should have received the ticket.”
“We just don’t get these calls,” Chief Nicoletti said. He went on to tell me most calls are from people who are indignant about getting a ticket and certainly don’t take responsibility. But after much convincing, he agreed to do some research and get back to me. Turns out, Mom wasn’t responsible for that one because both drivers at the intersection had the red light at the same time, and she was fortunate (or not) that the other driver hit her first.
I called him several months later again asking for his help. “Can you flag her car and pull her over for infractions? Enough to make the doctors and DOT (Department of Transportation) take notice?”
Again, Chief Nicoletti was polite but firm. “We have too many other important things to do than keep track of every car on the road.”
I was defeated.
The turning point came when Mom went into the hospital (read https://www.silversagemag.com/mom/) for something totally unrelated to a driving accident. While in the hospital, a neuropsychological evaluation was performed to determine her capacity for driving. Bingo! The evaluation was more far-reaching than we expected, however. Its main conclusion was that she was mentally incompetent to make her own healthcare decisions. So much for “patients with dementia can drive.”
Do you see me shaking my head?
What can you do? Here are some suggestions:
- Have a conversation with your parent before they get to the point that they cannot drive. Talk about how they’ll feel and the loss of freedom.
- Talk about options like Uber, Lyft, friends, social services, health aides, and more. Several services have free or reduced fees for senior citizens.
- Have a family conversation. Who’s going to ultimately take the keys? Who’s going to break the news to Mom or Dad? Who’s going to bear the brunt of driving your parent all over town?
- Talk to all the doctors and let them know your concerns. If a doctor has any suspicion that a patient should not be driving, they have a legal responsibility to report it to Department of Transportation. You can remind them of this, too.
- If Mom or Dad has had several fender benders, accidents, or other mishaps with a car, let the doctors know this. They will have to respond.
- Request the doctor to order a fitness-to-drive test. For many patients this is covered by Medicare and other health insurance carriers.
- Simply take the keys away. I threatened to do this after Mom totaled her second car in less than twelve months. She threatened back, “I have an extra set!”
- Do not drive with a parent who you think is unfit to drive. This sends a clear message and sets the stage for what ultimately will come next.
My mother finally took a fitness-to-drive test. It didn’t go well. To begin with, she was unaware that the test would involve driving a car! It went downhill from there. She failed miserably. Afterward she cried and said she’d rather die than not drive. For Mom, driving is her freedom and the last vestige of who she is—“a whole person,” she says. I’ve been working with her for a couple of weeks now explaining that she’s just like Driving Miss Daisy.
“Mom,” I encourage her, “think of yourself and a rich old lady who’s fortunate enough to have personal drivers (that is, health aides) drive you wherever you want to go!” She’s listening but hasn’t taken the bait—yet.
What have you done to get your parent to stop driving? Let us know at Silver Sage!
Photo credits by: NBA Law Firm and epperlyfollis.com