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Posted: December 31, 2007

Practical Caregiving

Taking Away the Keys

The winter holidays can be so wonderful, but unfortunately that’s not always the case, especially for caregivers. Sometimes the situation with our loved one is very difficult to deal with, but what better present can you give your loved one than to make sure they and others are safe.

That’s what Wendy in Chicago is trying to deal with trying to keep her aged father safe. Read what Wendy shared with me through email.


Dear Jean:

My 90-year-old father moved in with my husband and me until an assisted living facility in our town has a vacancy. He needs to renew his driver’s license, but he has macular degeneration in one eye and it is getting worse. Frankly, I hope he fails his eye test so they will not renew his license.

He believes he is able to drive safely, but that’s not the case. In the last two months, he has been in several accidents and hit the side of the garage a couple times, knocking off the side mirror. Last week, he was in two accidents in one day!

I know he is very afraid of losing his independence, but he does not understand what a danger his driving is. He has heart problems, high blood pressure, and other things.

I told him we would no longer ride in the car with him driving, and that we would drive him where he wants to go. He says he has to drive to doctor appointments and other places. He adamantly tells us he is capable of driving safely and that he does not take chances.

Any suggestions? He is still pretty sharp, so hiding the keys would really aggravate him.

Wendy K., Chicago, Illinois

Dear Wendy:

Your father’s driving is dangerous and simply needs to be stopped, and stopped now. In addition to the risk to your father, you would feel horrible if he hit someone and they died or had a disability that lasted the rest of their life. Every time I hear of an elderly person driving into a group of people, or some similar incident, I always hear the comment in the news and from friends, "Where was his family? Why didn't they stop him from driving?" You are his family, and this is your responsibility.

There are times like this when you, as family, need to step in to take care of your father, regardless of whether he understands and agrees with it. This is necessary when he does things that are a danger to other people or himself. It’s clear that he is at that point. It is not optional. You have to stop his driving.

Of course, when he gets into assisted living, he won't need to drive any longer; they will provide transportation.

Why don't you and your husband sit down and have a talk with him? Explain how dangerous his driving is to himself and other people. Ask him how he would feel if someone got badly hurt. How would he feel if he broke his back (or something else) and couldn't do anything that he wanted to do? Then, give him some alternatives. Explain that he will still be able to get around and do what he wants to do -- he just won't be driving. There are other ways to get around.

Also, tell him how much you enjoy having him in your home and want him live close to you. Explain that the situation is frustrating for all of you, but that you love him very much.

Has he had a good eye exam lately? You can talk to his doctor before the appointment and ask him to evaluate his ability to see well enough to drive.

What about a physical exam? Has he had a complete exam recently? It is possible there is something else going on that has developed since his last exam, or something that has gotten worse, contributing to his accident-prone driving.

Find alternatives for him to get where he wants to go. There are public buses and services for the handicapped, which he is not, but they do provide rides for people who can't drive any longer. Call the public transportation company in your area and ask what is available. Also ask if there is something else available through private pay. He can always call a cab, but that does get a little expensive. Try various ways of transportation with him instead of sending him alone. Or, is there someone else he can ride with to the various places he wants to go to?

Call the department of transportation and ask how to handle the situation with his license. They may help.

If nothing else works, you can always have someone disable his car so it won't start. They just need to unhook something, not damage the engine. Later, when you feel it is safe or you want to sell the car, they can undo what they did.

Good luck. This is such an important time for you to step in firmly to protect your father from himself, and others from him also. It is very difficult for you, but you don’t have any choice. You have to do it.


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Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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