One of the most difficult things to do is to take the car away from an elderly parent who has Alzheimer’s dementia.
Not long after dementia begins, the cognitive ability to drive begins to wane.
By Stage 3, most people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia can no longer meet the standards to be in-control of an automobile. With dementia behind the wheel, an automobile becomes three-thousand pounds of metal jetting down a highway. Once dementia is noted, Little time goes by without an horrible accident because family members were too afraid to take away a persons car or drivers license. Yet– It must be done.
And it happens at the most inopportune moment in the process of their illness. The caregiver who is usually an adult child, struggling to learn how to “parent their parent” becomes the “bad guy” who must steal their car away.
While you’re still learning to “parent” your own parent, they enter the stage of full-fledged denial.
- They no longer believe or even know the meaning of Alzheimer’s.
- If they don’t remember something you ask about the past, they are quite likely to invent their own history.
- Similar to dealing with a capricious child. There is no animosity involved, they simply invent what you want to hear because they don’t remember what the truth of the matter really is.
So any reassurances from them about how well they drive, and how much they need their car, and how others have praised their driving, should not weigh heavy on your conscience or decision-making to remove their car.
Remember! What they tell you about their abilities behind the wheel are probably NOT the truth.
I thought I was very inventive when I slipped Mom’s driver’s license out of her wallet without her knowing. The next time she intended to drive, I told her she couldn’t because she had lost her license. “You always need a license to drive,” I told her, in an appeal to her strong sense of obedience to the law.
Without skipping a beat, Mom looked at me and said, “Well, you do know, the head of Motor Vehicles (at the state Capitol) is an old friend of mine. I’ve known him for many many years and because I’ve been driving for more than 60 years and never had an accident, he said that I no longer need a valid driver’s license. I can drive without one from now on.. anytime I want.”
What! I almost burst out laughing– How could she concoct such a foolish story on such short notice. Believe me…..she got much better at that too!
Mom had been a good driver. But she also had 3 car accidents in her later years. And–NO, she never met nor knew a single person at the DMV. I bit my tongue to keep from laughing out-loud at this new story. But Mom was straight-faced and dead-serious!
Finally, I acquiesced. “I’ll call him tomorrow, just to be sure that it’s still all right for you to drive.”
Never argue with someone who has Alzheimer’s! Change the subject, delay the argument, postpone what ever they want to do until tomorrow–but don’t argue. No one wins in these battles and the person with Alzheimer’s can be quick with a temper if you push them.
Mom smiled like a Cheshire cat, thinking she’d still have wheels for a little longer–and promptly forgot that she needed to drive the car at all that day.
In fact, we had this exact conversation almost every day for months. Mom wanted to drive / she lost her license / her “friend” at the DMV said she could drive anyway /I will call her tomorrow —
It always amazed me that Mom could not remember she had Alzheimer’s, or any memory problem for that matter. She couldn’t remember grandchildren, nor great-grandchildren. She couldn’t remember we had the same conversation about her drivers license 20 times today– but she always remembered that she knew the official at the State Capitol, which was a total fantasy of her own imagination. And I don’t think she ever forgot her car.
She would tell and re-tell memories that she had invented, while she lost more and more of the memories that she had actually lived.
I was able to postpone actually taking her car for several months while we circled round and round the pretend story about her friend at the Department of Motor Vehicles. But eventually, she began sneaking the car anyway–driver license or not! And my brother took her car away to a safer place. Which she NEVER forgot, I might add, till her very last days.
We did suffer many accusations. ‘I stole her car to give it to my daughter.’ Or, ‘ my brother stole her car to sell it for money.’ Actually, her car sat in a driveway, covered and idle for the rest of it’s days but Mom never believed the truth.
It is painful when the Alzheimer sufferer accuses you falsely. Most of us shed a tear while we take Mom’s car away but know that it must be done. I tried to keep in mind all the losses she’d suffered through the stages of this disease and be gentle in response to her pleas. But, I reminded myself also, that I had to ‘parent’ my parent now. Mom would never have allowed me to drive a car if I was a danger to myself and others.