When is it time to take away the keys?

I facilitate a couple of support groups in Citrus County and one of the most frequently asked questions is, “When do I know it is time for my loved one to stop driving?”

This is a question that most caregivers face, and one of the most emotionally difficult questions they will face. The license to drive represents freedom, control, staying connected. For many it is a measure of adulthood and self worth. For some males it even represents masculinity. But at some point safety for the public and safety for your loved one will override all of these factors. When this time comes, someone has to be the bad guy.

We’ll talk about some options in removing the license to drive below, but first let’s consider some of the questions you should ask prior to making that decision:

*Has your loved one been diagnosed with dementia?
*When they leave the house in the car, do you worry about them?
*Do you ask yourself, Will they remember how to get home?
*If it is only right down the street, or someplace they travel too frequently, should it be okay?
*Do you fear they are likely to hurt someone?
*Do you have to instruct them or “help” them drive when you are in the passenger seat?
*Have minor mishaps, such as backing into things, hitting curbs, drifting across the center line, become more frequent?

First, before discussing gray areas, let’s address one of the questions above that demand a clear and immediate decision. If your loved one has an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis, it is time to terminate his/her license and take away the keys immediately! Don’t delay! The diagnosis of dementia puts you into a legal position of extreme liability, and even a minor mishap could wipe out your savings as the result of a law suit.

If there has been no diagnosis, it can be difficult to know when it is time, but you need to think about one thing throughout this care-giving journey: their safety is the paramount issue. You are responsible for their safety, and if they can no longer be safe, then you likely already have your answer.

Of course, you will be reluctant to cross this bridge, because when you remove the driving privileges from your loved one, you have just added another task to your long list of daily duties. Understandably, you will want to resist this decision. But you have to realize that an automobile can be a quick and powerful weapon, and remind yourself that this is not just an issue of whether your loved one may forget how to get home.

Keep in mind that they are losing their peripheral vision, their dexterity, their ability to hear clearly or know the direction a sound is coming from, their reaction time and eye-body coordination.

You are better off if you look at this inevitable decision as a transition. If you are considering most of the questions listed above, it is time to start this transition. Start having a conversation about the eventuality that your loved one may no longer be able to drive. Involve family for support. You certainly don’t need a sibling fighting you on this and “taking sides.” Allow your loved one to understand what is happening and ask for his/her help in staying safe and being responsible for the safety of others.

You may “ease” your loved one into becoming the passenger. Find more reasons you need to take the wheel to let him/her get used to not driving and especially not driving alone. If you have a second car, sell it or get it out of sight. No need to provide unnecessary temptation.

Get friends or family members to pick your loved one up to do errands so he/she can have the enjoyment of riding in a car without driving. Anything you can do as a caregiver to implement third party support will give you respite and involve others so the ‘blame’ does not rest solely on you.

There are also outside resources that can help you with this problem. Be aware that your doctor has the legal authority to report your situation to the Department of Motor Vehicles using the form you can find here: https://www.flhsmv.gov/forms/72190.pdf . This way, someone outside your family can be the “bad guy.” Many physicians are more than willing to help.

Whatever you do, avoid denial and face the decision as inevitable. It is time to take action or to begin the transition toward a final decision, without further delay, when you see the following signs:

*Not able to navigate to familiar places.
*Inappropriate lane changing.
*Confusion between brake and gas pedals.
*Failing to observe or recognize traffic signs.
*Failing to recognize familiar landmarks.
*Slower or poor decision making.
*Hitting curbs while driving.
*Driving too slow or fast.
*Becoming angry or confused while driving.

Keep in mind that dementia is a terminal and progressive disease that is robbing your loved one of his/her physical skills, rational thinking, judgment, and the ability to know what is safe and what is not. Terminating their license to drive is inevitable. Plan for it and don’t put it off too long.

Until next time remember: “We all deserve the best”

Send your comments and stories to [email protected]

© Debbie Selsavage, 2015