Transitioning elderly loved ones out of driving

by Gina

Story #1: I have 2 elderly Aunts that I care for long distance. They were never married nor did they ever have children but they lived with me & my mom for 18 years, so they are like mothers. One of them never got her license so the other was the chauffeur. They live in FL and I live in MN, so very challenging to watch out for their welfare but I went down at least once a year to take a close look at how they were managing.

When Aunt N was in her early 90's I noticed her car had many dings and dents in it. I could tell that she wasn't able to turn her head enough to look safely around while driving. And her co-pilot sister is older than she.

Aunt N was also showing signs of cognitive impairment, and she was having double vision problems, so I was worried including that they'd leave home and forget how to get back, not to mention their well being and that of the others on the road.

Where they lived there was really no taxi or senior bus services (not that they'd use those). So I arranged a neighbor to take them to their medical and hair appointments.

They liked this neighbor and I gave the neighbor money on the sly to take my Aunties out for lunch on those same days. Then, I wrote the State of Florida DMV anonymously and made my case why my Aunt should be retested.

She was called in to retest, and she failed. To this day, they don't know it was me who set that wheel in motion. They still live mostly independently in that house at ages 97 and 100.

Now they have a Visiting Angels companion who drives them wherever they want to go. They love her.

Story #2: My elderly uncle (in his late 80s) was still driving and shouldn't have been but his family chose to not deal with the issue. One afternoon he and his wife were driving and he had a senior moment and went through a red light.

Their car was t-boned and his wife (and dog) were both killed, and he had minor injuries. And this after his wife had survived cancer and a rare heart condition.

Fortunately the people in the other car were okay. My uncle went into a deep depression and his dementia rapidly advanced. I think he would still be going to work and living at home with his loving wife had he been transitioned at the right time.

I always think about this when talking to someone about reluctance to deal with the driving issue.

Story # 3: My 80-yr old mom-in-law and her husband, both with cognitive issues and he additionally with untreated Parkinson's. She had a minor accident where she drove straight into a stop sign.

She claimed to have no memory of how it happened. In retrospect she probably didn't remember due
to her cognitive decline. Her van looked like it had been in a pin ball machine there were so many scrapes, dents and scratches.

I asked if I could borrow her van for an errand and she agreed. Then, I drove it to my house and parked it there with no intention of returning it.

I told her that it had mechanical problems so I brought it to the shop for repair. In the meantime, I wrote the state of MN and made the case of why she was unfit to drive. They wouldn't renew her license and we purchased the van from her for my son.

He would drive her places when he could.

Story #4: My 83-yr old step-father-in-law (see above). He was totally uncooperative (actually very angry and hostile at me).

Due to medical and financial issues, a social worker had to assess him for many things before returning him home after a fall and I was in the room when she read the part of the report that said they did not advise that he drive.

As I mentioned he was very angry, hostile and irrational about it. But I took his car keys because I couldn't trust him to not drive. But I made sure that we were available to take him places.

Again, I wrote the state and attached a copy of the social worker's report and they didn't renew his license, either.

I think having your adult child suddenly decide you are unfit to drive would freak out anyone. It's a time to be compassionate, empathetic, merciful, socially responsible (see story #2) and creative.

If possible, transition them very gradually, maybe don't even bring it up but make up reasons to drive them to their appointments or have neighbors pick up groceries for them or make use of delivery services.

This will buy you time to write the state and make the case for driving privilege denial. You should research whether the county in which your elderly loved one resides has a senior transportation van service. Other than that I DO NOT recommend unaccompanied public transportation, taxis, Uber, Lyft or private hired drivers for them if they have the least little bit of cognitive decline (plus those services don't want that responsibility either) or if they have a concerning medical issue (like compromised balance). They are just too vulnerable.

If you have teens or young adult family members at available it is a wonderful thing to get them involved as drivers. I have 3 sons and they all helped.

Future story: my own mother lives next to me. She is 90 and single and I'm her only child. She still drives and thankfully knows her limitations.

Lately I did notice a yellow scrape along her front fender that matches the color of the pilleon at the bank drive thru.

I'm keep my eye on her and she knows that I'll drive her whenever I can. She is self-transitioning -- so far.

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