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Should a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Continue to Drive?

It’s a troubling question, given the value we put on independence  and the love and the dependence we have on motor vehicles.  Taking the car keys away can often seem like a death sentence but must be balanced against the safety of other drivers on the road.

I’ve had more conversations with children than I can remember about how best to handle the “driving issue”.  “The doctor says Dad shouldn’t drive anymore but each time I bring up the topic he gets angry with me.  I don’t know what to do.”

Experts in Alzheimer’s care say the best approach in dealing with an agitated loved one  is to create a diversion.  Instead of trying to reason with Dad it’s best to change the subject.  After all, as the illness advances, he isn’t going to remember what the doctor said last week or last month and may not remember what you said 5 minutes ago.

Just as a 5 year old child won’t be able to evaluate the danger of crossing a busy street on her own, Dad won’t be able to understand the danger of getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle or what can happen if he loses control.  If he starts talking about driving, change the subject entirely.  Talk about  getting him his favorite meal for dinner or some other pleasant topic.  His memory loss will be helpful in this regard, making it easier to move him off the topic.

For many families it’s an unpleasant and sometimes downright stressful subject.  But, the alternative is far more frightening.  I’ve had more than one family member tell me of a parent who lost control of a car that ran up on a sidewalk or on someone’s front lawn.  Thankfully, none of those accidents resulted in serious injury.  But, I did write last year of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the family of a caregiver who was killed by the elderly man she was caring for, who hit her with his car.

No one wants to look back with the regret of “if only I had taken Dad’s car keys away sooner”.