Elderly Parents Who Need to Stop Driving

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My 87 year old father-in-law won't stop driving

Aug 2010

Help! any ideas out there? My father in law is 87, can barely walk, has fits of coughing from emphesema, and is on medication. At last weeks doctor visit, my husband drove him, and asked the doctor with his dad in the conversation, Should he be driving? The doctor said to him, ''Abssoulutly not, and what if you hit a small child?'' Days later and guess what he is still driving. this is so stressfull. SG

You or your doctor may contact the DMV and request a driving retest (usually a phone interview is the first step). If your father-in-law passed his last licensing exam (written only) he can be re-examined by request of any interested person, i.e., family member or MD. Hope this helps. Carol

When my demented 88 yr. old father, who lives in a distant state, had an accident that flipped a van because he drove through a red light and by some miracle a number of people were not killed, the DMV mandated that his doctor examine/test him to see if he should be driving. He wouldn't listen to anyone else, but he stopped driving during the testing period, but was still trying to keep his license. Long story short, other events forced me to have him put in a facility. Anyway, call the DMV or his doctor and request that they require that they investigate whether he should be licensed. You don't have to tell him you did it. You may have to help find alternative transportation for him. Sympathetic

First off, having been through this before, I can sympathize. The problem is that driving is not about transportation to an older person. It is about independence and control. Hence, if you take it away, you are taking away something very important to them. That being said, it is an unfortunate reality that their being behind the wheel is very dangerous. Having first tried and failed to appeal to their sense of responsibility, you have to take it to the next level: get the doctor to put in writing that they do not feel that your father in law can safely drive and send that letter to the DMV. The DMV will then revoke his license. That in itself will not stop him from driving. Then work with him on alternatives: set up a driving service, offer to help get him where he needs to go, etc. If your husband or someone else has power of attorney, use that to sell the car. Be warned: this may not be easy nor painless. Our father was compliant one day and then angry and resentful the next. He actually went out and bought another car after we sold the first. You guys have to be strong, patient, understanding, but firm. You may have to repeat the points and alternatives again and again. Good luck! BTDT

It may be stressful for you to take away the keys, but it is going to be far more stressful if you don't. Talk to him about the pros and cons of driving. Find out where he wants to go, then develop a plan to help him get there. He needs groceries, but what about more intangible needs? How is going to see friends, get out in nature, buy clothes, etc? Make a plan (quickly!); it may involve friends, neighbors, relatives, taxi service, public transportation, etc. Then take his keys away. He has probably been driving every day for most of his life, it is no wonder that it is difficult for him to give it up. He may also be very attached to his home, but if it isn't in a good location given the current circumstances, he may want to move. It is far more important that you protect the public than protect his feelings. So take the keys away! We took my father's keys away after he got into a couple of small accidents. I wish we had done it sooner. anon

Per the California DMV website: Physicians are required by law to report medical conditions or disorders that are characterized by loss of consciousness or control, along with other medical conditions that may affect your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. If the physician reports to DMV, it will be taken out of the senior's hands. They will be summoned for a reexamination by DMV and will have the license revoked if they fail to pass. Hope this helps! Stephanie

You need to have a conversation with him, and take his keys away. That is what you have to do. It took about an hour to get my Dad's keys, and he was distressed for a while and STILL complains that it's hard to get around without driving himself, but it's a lot of peace of mind for us. We were respectfully persistent, logical, and relentless. Maybe you can get tips from a social worker or the like on how to direct the conversation, but we just kept harping on why it was necessary. It helps if you can offer backup for getting him places. Good luck! Please don't delay

This has come up a few times on the BPN, and good advice has already been offered below. My mother-in-law's late partner drove long after he should have turned over the keys -- partly because no one wanted to make him that angry, and partly because they he lived in a remote area here there are few alternatives. He finally crumpled his front bumper and hood -- in a minor accident he initially admitted fault for, then completely changed his story -- and just never got behind the wheel again. Luckily no one was hurt. Good luck with this tough transition. Jennifer

Encouraging my 82-yr-o father to stop driving

April 2010

My parents live in the suburbs in another state. My mother, 77, is in excellent health: takes a spinning class 6x a week, hearing, vision, etc. great. My father, 82 has various health problems but presents as robust but slowing, yet mentally as sharp as ever.

The problem is that he is, of course, 82, so his reflexes are naturally not the same; his hearing isn't as great as it used to be, and his eyesight as far as letters and detail is pretty poor due to macular degeneration. Yet he continues to drive. He gets around fine because he knows the area ''like the back of his hand'' and his eyesight for the larger, general landscape is fine.

Now, a few years ago I was with a friend who nearly died when she was hit in the street by an 82-year-old woman who had lived for 30 years a few blocks from where we stood. This woman also knew the area like the back of her hand, but she still plowed into my friend because she misjudged how close she was to the car against which my friend was standing.

I'm terrified this could happen with my dad and want to ask him to stop driving. My mother and brother are afraid to bring this up with my dad because he is outraged by the suggestion that he might not be a competent driver, and they can't handle his anger. My mother gets mad when I try to even discuss it with her, because she doesn't want to deal with his reaction. (I'm sure many people reading this are familiar with this kind of dysfunction!) Yet that should not outweigh the risk he is posing to himself and others.

I have always been the ''troublemaker'' in the family who brings up the things no one wants to talk about. So how do I pose this, when I will be generally viewed as a long- distance busybody who can't even offer to drive him around if he isn't allowed to drive himself.

Who has had this difficult conversation, and how was it resolved? No easy answer, but the right thing to do

I went through this with my dad a few years before he died after I found out 'accidentally' that he'd had several accidents he'd purposely not told anyone about. When I asked him what had happened and how many times, he was defensive and said it only happened when he was in an unfamiliar place at night! He promised to stop driving at night, but there was no way to ensure his safety or that of others. The rest of my family was FURIOUS with me for pressing the issue and trying to engage their support, so I appreciate your dilemma.

In my case, I loved my dad enough -- caring both about his safety and that of those he might hit as well as the potential consequences of an accident that could wipe him out financially - - that I called his MD, who reported him to the DMV. In another situation, I made an appointment with a social worker from the local Jewish Family Services because of some concerns and he responded to her in remarkable ways even though he was mad at me temporarily for bringing her in. As it turned out, by the time the DMV wrote him to require he come in for a vision screening and driving test, he was in a nursing home recovering from heart surgery, realized his driving days were over, and voluntarily relinquished his license.

I researched the transportation options for elders in his area -- including buses, taxis that offered lower cost rides for elders, a list of drivers for pay in his area, and volunteer drivers from a local (non-proselytizing) church -- and had all those resources available for him when he was better. Once he began to make the transition, he was fine and even began to look forward to spending time every week with some of his drivers.

You can see how much this issue pushes everyone's buttons, whether it forces them to confront dad's decline, adds pressure to their lives to step up, or raises unresolved issues like dealing with his anger, so be as compassionate as you can with them and yourself while pursuing the only responsible course of action. You might find it helpful to talk with his MD, a rabbi/priest he is close to, a social worker, or someone at the Local Area Aging agency for guidance and support. This is a difficult passage, but better than most of the alternatives. Good luck! A fellow ''troublemaker'' who did the right thing

My mother went through the process your father is apparently starting. We learned there is a way to anonymously request a driver safety evaluation of a person who may be losing the ability to drive safely. (I understand anonymity is protected unless the subject driver takes an action in court to get around it.) I filled out the DMV form (http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/driversafety/dsnoskill.htm and look for the link ''Request for Driver Reexamination (form DS 699)'')and a notice of examination was sent to my mother. My mother believed it the examination was part of her regular license renewal, and went in (with me and my wife) to be examined. The examiner was very polite and considerate, asked Mom a series of questions mostly having to do with cognition, and then told her he must have her license. He took it and told her she had to apply for a CA ID card, which looks similar to a Drivers License. Her driving privilege was revoked. Your father may have another experience -- the examiner may concentrate more on vision than mental capacity, but the system worked for us. (Impaired vision that can be and is corrected may not keep your father out of the driver seat: (http://www.dmv.ca.gov/about/senior/driverlicense/vision.htm)

My mother stopped driving after doing it for 70 years, all the time knowing the area like the back of her hand. When her license was revoked, we all felt much safer. It was more of a hassle for us all to arrange for her transportation, but that was easy compared with what it might have been if she had hurt someone. Josh

We (all the family) had worries about my father's driving, as well. At first he wasn't receptive to talking about it at all. I made it clear that I wasn't forcing him to do anything, but that I wanted to have an honest discussion... Then he at least started the dialog.

The point that won the day for my dad was bringing up the news article about the 80s something guy that plowed into a sidewalk full of people. I indicated that if he *ever* got into an accident, even if it was not his fault, lawyers would have a field day, referencing that and other similar events, and he would be tarred with the same brush... the downside is that he could be sued for his whole estate.

It didn't hurt that he crumpled the back corner of the carport the very next day... Spencer

First off, my sympathies. We have been in the exact same situation. We got our father to agree, sold the car, and then he changed his mind and bought another one. The car is a very powerful icon of freedom and independence and it is not surrendered easily. We tried the rational route: safety, confusion, reflexes, and depth perception (garage walls caused many trips to the body shop) to no avail. One day he would agree and one day he wouldn't. We tried doing safe driving courses so that a third party would suggest not driving. He refused. Finally, we got his doctor to issue a letter suggesting that he not drive. We took that to the DMV and had his license revoked. At about the same time we took his keys and removed his vehicle. It is not a fun thing to do, but it was the only way. We arranged cabs, handi-vans, drivers, got him a bus pass and drove him a lot ourselves to remove the stigma of inconvenience. Turns out, he didn't go out that much to begin with. Good luck! Key master

You haven't really given any evidence that your dad is not a safe driver other than his age. The fact that another elderly driver ran into your friend -- who was standing in the street -- doesn't mean anything. A 20 year old driver, or a 40 year old -- could have done the same thing. (A good reason not to stand in the street up against your car when people are driving by.) Talk to his doctor if you really think there is a problem, and get some hard evidence you can use with him and your family.

We had this issue with my mother-in-law (in her case it was the onset of dementia). We talked to her doctor before her next visit and he not only told her she had to stop driving, he said he would let the DMV know so her license would not be renewable. Since your father has macular degeneration, talk to his ophthalmologist, I'm sure they are very used to having this conversation with patients - and make sure there is someone else there to drive him home from that appointment! Susan

I had this conversation with my father and it was not easy, but once I framed it that I was not only concerned about his and my mother's safety, but the safety of others, and pointed out how terrible he would feel if he ever unintentionally hurt someone, he was able to see giving up driving as the right, moral thing to do. It was a very hard decision (what felt like giving up his autonomy, his mobility), but he has now adjusted well. I would not have this conversation long-distance. You need to be there to deliver the message firmly but with love.

I should note that we had this conversation after he had a serious car accident, on top of several years of observing in-person increasingly unsafe driving practices. It is not completely clear from your post whether you KNOW your father is unfit to drive, or just suspect it. If the latter, the first step might be simply convincing him to have his vision re-tested at the DMV. If you want to be passive-agressive about it, I think there might even be a way to anonymously report potentially unsafe drivers to the DMV.

It's extremely difficult for people to emotionally deal with the challenge of giving up driving, and most seniors won't give up the keys until their health or a frightening incident forces them to. However, there are options out there for seniors, some of which are very low cost. The ADA act of 1990 requires that any city that offers public transportation also offer a system for those who are perhaps unable to travel safely or comfortably on public transportation. In some areas there are also volunteer organizations who offer rides for free or very low cost. Prior to pushing this issue with your father you might want investigate options for him to get around w/o a car independently. You could start by calling your local transportation authority and asking for the person who deals with senior transportation. You can also point out that he will save a lot of money by giving up his car and he can use that for alternative transportation. I noticed that one person said that his/her father really doesn't go out much--that's actually a negative thing from both a physical and mental health perspective--his father will be much healthier and happier if he is able to remain active. So, in summary, come up with some good alternatives that will allow your father to remain active and reasonably independent even if he isn't driving anymore. Two good resources: AAAfoundation.org and the Beverly Foundation. Stephanie

This relates to your question but doesn't deal with it directly. My grandmother has macular degeneration, lives in another state, and was continuing to drive. I recently took note of some really good advice in Dear Abby. It was more focused on how to handle things after the car is gone. Basically, this suggested that you sell the car. Maybe you get $5,000. You then use that money for drivers and transportation. Use $500 (or so) the first year and then invest the rest so that the remainder of the money and any income from the investment is available for drivers/taxis, the next year. I thought that was a clever idea that might be able to work any where. I do think w/ some of the nannies and caregivers and networks it's probably fairly easy to find transportation options in this area. Good luck. Amazingly, my Gma decided to stop on her own. She only took out one mailbox (yikes) in the process. - Know how you feel

My mother shouldn't be driving

May 2008

My fiercely independent, stubborn mother shouldn't be driving anymore. She does not live in the Bay Area, but lives in a suburban community where walking places is not an option. She won't consider moving, and even if she lived closer to stores, etc., her health is such that she cannot walk long distances. If she loses her license, we (my father, siblings, and I) are concerned she will sit at home all day and will deteriorate further physically and mentally. She won't accept rides from friends (and doesn't have many left at this point). She can afford to pay someone to drive her where she wants to go, but as a child of the depression, her attitude is such that she will refuse to pay someone to take her to run errands, nor would she ever allow her children to pay for it either or to disrupt our lives to help her. My father still works full time, and always drives her at night, but cannot be home to drive her during the day. We have considered a lot of options, but I thought I would put it out to this network to see if anyone has an idea we haven't thought of. Concerned about Mom

We had to do this with my father in-law, while my mother in-law did not want to do this. Apparently his doctor is supposed to report that he was unfit to drive to the DMV (he had parkinsons). He managed to drive daily and although he had an episode while driving he continued to drive. It's very sad and difficult for all concerned especially the person who is having their independence curtailed. But when you know that the person is a danger to themselves and others if driving there are steps to take.

There are senior centers that offer shuttles to the centers, you might want to check with them re shuttles. I would also check the town Chamber of Commerce for options. Check the taxi service for senior discounts and vouchers. Maybe see if she can get the same driver each time. anon

When I found out that my dad had had several minor car accidents -- it was clear he'd been hiding this information from me -- I felt I had no choice but to contact his MD, who was bound to report him to the DMV. My family was furious with me: Did I not understand how devastating this would be for him, a native Californian and also fiercely independent? I asked them if they were willing to risk Dad hurting or killing himself or someone else, or to take care of him if he caused property damage that wiped out his finances? It turned out that by the time the DMV sent him a letter, his health had, alas, taken a turn for the worse, and he let his license go without argument. I hired a driver for him from time to time, he learned to use various transportation alternatives, and I bought a car he could easily get in and out of. At another tough juncture with him, I brought in a social worker from an agency (faith-based, as I recall), and he was very responsive to her making the same suggestions I was despite his initial irritation at me for inviting her to meet with us. Both her training and her non-involvement helped; she was more empathic and patient with him than I was by this time and most importantly for him, I think, she was not his child or spouse. I encourage you to bring in a geriatric social worker to discuss your mom's situation with her (and the family, if appropriate) and engage her in planning how best to make the next stage work rather than telling her what she ''needs.'' Best of luck in making this difficult transition as gracefully as possible. Terry

Would one of those little motorized scooter things work? Seems a bit safer than driving a car, and would let her do local errands and outings without walking long distances. Holly

Parent Health and Driving Priviledge My mother almost killed both herself and my father when her blood sugar went low while driving the two of them to dinner. She nearly hit a snow plow head on and was pulled over by the cops who originally thought she was drunk! Luckily they figured out she was impaired rather than drunk and called an ambulance. After this incident I contaced her Dr. and made sure he sent the necessary paperwork to the DMV. She did have her license suspended and I spend the next 4 months trying to lessen the anger of my Mom. For the independent aging parent, having their driving curtailed feels like losing their freedom. When they can not drive it also puts a burden on everyone around them. They still have to get to Dr. appts, store, etc. The only thing that ultimately got through with my mom was that she raised me to do what I think is right, and I thought it was the right thing to do to protect her and others from her driving. Doing the right thing has reaped unanticipated rewards. She now is religous about control of her blood sugar. Once she had been able to show this control (3+months) she petitioned the state to reinstate her license and she did in fact get it back without my consent of course. It has now been almost 1 1/2 years since this happened and she is still driving and controlling her blood sugar. Good Luck and just do what you know is the right thing and hopefully everything will work out for the best. loving daughter