The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Driving, Part Two: Making Quitting Easier

Last week’s blog was about how to know when it was time for the PlwD* to quit driving. This week’s blog is about how to make that happen when the time comes.

Right after John’s diagnosis, we talked about how LBD* would gradually erode the abilities he needs to drive safely. Once a month we’d go through those red flags and see how he was doing. The first time I answered “yes” to a question, he didn’t. But the second time, he did…and then he handed me his keys. “I guess it’s time,” he said.  - Janice

This is the storybook answer that we all hope for and seldom get. It usually goes more like this:

Don loves to drive but I’m getting worried. He takes chances and doesn’t see things. Yesterday, he ran a stop sign. “Don’t worry,” he told me. "We were the only ones there, weren't we?” I tried to tell him it was time to quit driving, but he won’t listen. I’d tell him I won’t ride with him anymore, but I’m afraid to let him drive without me. How can I make him quit?  - Marsha

Or even like this:

We talked about this early on, but now Hank can’t see that his driving is no longer safe. He says “Everyone makes mistakes now and then and I’m as safe as the next guy on the road…safer than most of these morons, in fact.” Yes, that’s one of the red flags I checked: He’s always getting mad at the “other guy” when he drives. -  Beverly

John and Janice did their homework early on and continued to address it regularly as a symptom of his disorder, not unlike poor balance. This made it possible for John to make “an adult” decision to quit driving when it became an issue. Don and Marsha didn’t talk about his driving until his dementia was so far advanced that he couldn’t see cause and effect…he only saw his need to continue driving, to continue to “be a man.” Hank and Beverly did their homework, but Hank avoided his problems by blaming them on others…a common ploy when dementia takes over and we don’t like to admit we aren’t as able as we used to be.

What are some of the ways a care partner can help the PlwD to make that crucial decision to stop driving?

Avoid reasoning, explaining or anger. It’s probably too late for these to work and they will simply make things worse. You are now dealing with someone who sees only the immediate positives and none of the possible negatives.

Mention grandchildren. “The grandkids are scared to ride with you” might do the job, when you saying you are scared doesn’t.

Make someone else the bad guy. Talk to the doctor and ask them to tell the PlwD that it is time to stop driving. Often this is all it takes. Of course, the PlwD may forget, and so you must act quickly to remove temptations.

Remove temptation. Hide the keys—or “lose” them, let the driver’s license lapse, and even disable the car if necessary. If you have more than one vehicle, get rid of the extra one. “We need the money,” or “grandson wants wheels” often work for explaining this.

Use physical disabilities: As we age, other physical disabilities, such as poor mobility, poor eyesight or poor hearing can play a part in one’s ability to drive. These are often more easily accepted by the PlwD as reasons for stopping driving than mental issues. Get a doctor’s support to identify these problems as physical hazards that make the PlwD’s driving unsafe.

Develop a “love of driving.” Make it a point to get into the driver’s seat first. Sometimes, this unspoken taking over of the driving task is easier for the PlwD to tolerate than discussing it.

When a PlwD vents about not being able to drive, avoid expressing your own relief or how their driving was unsafe—this makes you the bad guy again. Instead speak to their feelings and commiserate about how awful it is to lose one's driving privileges. This feels supportive and helps them to accept what is.

Finally, find as many alternatives to driving as possible. Of course, the most common one is that the care partner takes over the driving. But there are other options as well. Care facilities often provide transportation for adult day care. Most communities have handicap busses that can be scheduled for doctor’s visits and other events. Some volunteer organizations offer driving services for people who can’t drive. Talk to the local senior center staff. They will likely know who to contact.

* Acronyms:
LBD: Lewy body dementia
PlwD: person living with dementia
PlwLBD: person living with LBD
DLB: dementia with Lewy bodies
PDD: Parkinson's disease with dementia
MCI: mild cognitive impairment
MCI-LB: the form of MCI that precedes LBD
BPSD: behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia

For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors. As informed caregivers, they share the information here foreducational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a physician's advice.

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