When Dad Got Lost Driving

Nearly 9 years ago I started to share some of my caregiving stories on this blog. As the local family member who was watching her parents fail and behave in new and unusual ways, I was horrified and amused.

Some things were so odd that I couldn’t control my laughter when they happened. Thankfully, my parents would usually join in. We had a great relationship. As the baby of the family, I benefited from my older siblings being teens in teh 70’s and breaking in mom and dad. I was also the only one that stayed around after college. We shared many meals, they were around for two grand-kids, and I often tagged along on my mother’s trips to auctions for her antique’s business.

On this one day, my Dad seemed to finally acknowledge that something was wrong. He had been driving to my home for ten years and we lived a few miles away. Instead of arriving early, he showed up half an hour late and filled with anxiety — two things no one would have associated with my dad.

Driving with cognitive impairment is a risk. Now there is a huge variety to term “cognitive impairment” and in general, any noticeable loss of short-term memory could really put a driver, their passenger and others on the road at risk. Changes to the brain that result in memory loss can change thinking and behavoir.

For someone who is already losing, being asked and expected to give up something by choice, that may not seem like a risk, is a much bigger deal than we often consider. Here are a few tips from Mayo Clinic on how to bring up the subject, include them in the discussions, and incorporate their doctor to understand how their cognitive issues could impact driving.

This is usually one of the first big battles. Approach it softly, identify your concerns plainly, and listen openly to help walk this early road and maybe find a silver lining in how you resolve it. Experienced.

Dementia and Driving Issues

Many families have faced the issue of driving when dementia is suspected or diagnosed. We used everything from a family intervention to a detached starter to try to thwart my parent’s ability to get behind the wheel of their car. Our complication was two parents that posed a united front. They have managed for years together. Now, we are just faced with two very independent and stubborn people who don’t recognize the safety hazard they pose behind the wheel.

The real issue has been how do we respect our parents, help them keep as much independence as they can manage, provide them with outlets to live a life with purpose and meaning while keeping the public safe? Not that I figured all that out, but here is what I have done and learned if you find yourself walking in my shoes:

All of these things have occurred a multitude of times and been offered by a variety of people – both family, medical personnel and even neighbors.

  1. Both parents have a dementia diagnosis.
  2. Medical personnel have verbally and in writing recommended my parents stop driving.
  3. Medical personnel have verbally spent the time to explain my parents’ diagnosis.
  4. All four children have held a family meeting with our parents to convey our concerns (twice).
  5. All four children have followed up in writing and by phone with specific concerns as events have unfolded (infinity).
  6. We have offered or arranged to eliminate the need for them to drive by
    1. giving rides.
    2. bringing in groceries  or preparing meals.
    3. finding other transportation solutions.

If none of those have worked and they still continue to drive, ask the doctor to submit the medical forms to rescind their license. If you are noticing the dementia, consider that it will also be impacting their ability to make swift and good decisions behind the wheel of a car.

There doesn’t seem to be much recognition or training in the medical community on how to deal with this – I hope that changes.

I consider myself lucky that we found Dr. J. She was so concerned when she ran into my parents in two different hospitals on two different days that not only did she sit my parents down and try to explain what was going on but she gave them time to find a solution. She told them she was submitting the paperwork to have their licenses revoked.

In Virginia, the doctor completes a form and submits it with the medical testing. I was told in about 1 to 2 weeks, those drivers will get a notice in the mail. According to the information on the VA DMV website: “In cases where the driver’s physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant submits an initial impaired driver report which recommends that the person no longer drive, DMV sends the driver a suspension order which takes effect in five days.”

When I called to ask how the timing really works, I was told the drivers have 30 days to provide medical evidence to validate their ability to drive. After 30 days, their license is revoked if they are unable to provide documentation regarding a reversal of the diagnosis. Specifically, the VA DMV web site states that the “DMV promptly reviews all impaired driver reports. The agency notifies the driver that he or she is required to complete one or more of the following actions:

  1. Submit a medical and/or vision report from a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant.
  2. Pass the two-part driver’s license exam.
  3. Pass the road skills test.

The driver must comply with the requirements within 30 days. If the initial requirement is a medical and/or vision report and it is approved, DMV may require the driver to successfully complete the knowledge and/or road skills tests. The driver is notified in writing and given an additional 15 days to comply. If the driver does not comply with the requirements or does not pass the required tests, DMV immediately suspends the driver’s privilege to operate a motor vehicle.”

The “what about” questions explode in my brain until I have almost made myself hyperventilate. Will my parents understand when they get a notice that their license is suspended? What about insurance? What if my parents continue to try to drive even after their licenses have been suspended?

My siblings and I are working through solutions together. Battle-readied.


Additional resources:

Dementia & Driving from the Family Caregiver Alliance

Virginia DMV Form to be completed by Medical Personnel  – As stated on their web site, “to ensure the safety of motorists on Virginia’s highways, drivers must meet certain requirements including vision, medical and mental standards.”

If you have links to the resources within your state, I hope you will add it through comments.