It was the fall of 2018... My father had had a stroke late July this same year. My mother was battling Alzheimer's and Lymphoma and was no longer driving, but my father... That was a different story. He had always been a very proud, independent man whom fought for everything he had and he was not about to let a little thing like a stroke stop him from driving his car, even at 93 years old!
My father's car was on my driveway, the same place it had been since he and my mother had dinner with us one steamy night in July; and following dinner, his stroke occurred. This particular morning started with me making sure Dad had eaten, that Mom was going to be looked after and reminding Dad he had an appointment today. After his hello hug and warm smile, the conversation proceeded as it had for the past many weeks... "Where's my car? I don't see it outside the building. I want to go out today." I would spend the next 10 minutes having an often repeated conversation explaining where the car was, why it was there, and that he needed a follow-up appointment with the neurologist to be cleared to drive again, and today was that day!
I accompanied my father to his appointment as both driver and caregiver. I will never forget his face when the doctor told him that his stroke caused short-term memory loss and vascular dementia; he would not be cleared to drive again, even under supervision. He pondered on this news and then exclaimed, "I had a stroke, I think I would remember if I had a stroke!" *cue short-term memory loss* He told us he believed he was okay to drive and couldn't it just be allowed, for him... "Please, I'll be very careful..."
It's a difficult thing, parenting your parents. Taking their keys away, planning to sell their car because they will never drive again... It's heart-breaking. How do you know it's time to have such a conversation? Not everyone has a medical crisis that throws them into the next level of this game called life, the level that says... "Give up your car." Some people slip into this phase under the radar and that's where things get tricky, even dangerous.
Let's start by defining dementia - According to the Alzheimer's Association, Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia. Having a disease that affects your cognitive abilities and reasoning makes driving a potentially hazardous situation in many ways, from things like delayed reaction times to aggressive driving. Knowing when to stop driving matters.
What does the law say about driving with dementia? This wasn't even something on my radar back then. I just knew my father wasn't quite himself and I was terrified of him driving off and getting lost or into an accident. I never gave the law about driving with dementia any thought, until this week when I saw an article written by Warner Law Offices, PLLC. This link https://www.wvpersonalinjury.com/dementia-and-driving/ takes you to their article where they highlight things like:
Dementia and Driving Laws
When Should Someone with Dementia or Alzheimer's Stop Driving?
What Are Some Signs of Unsafe Driving?
Coping With No Longer Driving
How to Talk to a Person About Quitting Driving
Other Transportation Options for People With Alzheimer's and Dementia
Resources and Tips for Family Members and Caregivers
Being an advocate for my parents was something I started doing for them long before they lost their ability to reason. Having been a surgeon and surgical nurse, they understood the importance of dealing with weighty health matters with a trusted third party attending appointments, taking notes, and offering gentle suggestions and/or reminders to make sure they were keeping a clear head and not letting emotions make decisions for them. As we age, it's important to have a trusted advocate, someone we know we can count on to guide us through uncharted territory, like complicated health issues. My parents had trusted me for several years to be that person and to provide them with insight when they were wrought with emotions. Having the weight of my father's request to allow him to continue driving and not have to lose his car was hard, but not unbearable. Why? Because I had learned, to be a good advocate, I had to have good information and trusted sources, and thinking quick on my feet helped a lot, too! I pardoned myself from the exam room to "use the restroom" while the Neurologist completed her exam of my father. While in the hall, I found a familiar nurse and explained the situation. She was more than understanding as I explained to her, "He's a healer, he was a surgeon. His job for decades was to help fix people and to do no harm" (an oath physician's take). I asked her if she could somehow message the Neurologist in the exam room and explain to her, that this man, this surgeon, would be potentially doing harm if he caused an accident in his condition. I believed that if he could see this situation from a different perspective, one that was counter-intuitive to his deep-seeded desire to help not harm others, perhaps it would soften the blow. She needed to then reach him, doctor to doctor, and ask him what he might say to his own patient in a similar situation... The nurse got the message to the doctor and when she did, the doctor understood what was needed and met him where he was. We left that visit with my father understanding the importance of no longer driving and he agreed to allow us to sell his car for him. He didn't like it, but he understood.
This story's ending was not how my father would have written it. It's not necessarily how I would have liked to see things go either. But, it didn't end with him driving off and getting lost or causing a horrible accident, so for that... I am grateful. If you have a loved one that is showing the signs of dementia, do not hesitate to speak to them about what you are noticing. Do not be timid in your approach to want what's best for them for their safety, and the safety of others. Know this too, you are not alone. There are an abundance of resources (see article above) and also those available at the Alzheimer's Association's website, inclusive of this link to 10 Signs of Dementia: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs.
As for what you can do to reduce your risk of having dementia...
Know this ~ GENETICS LOADS THE GUN, LIFESTYLE PULLS THE TRIGGER!
If you need support with your lifestyle - optimizing sleep, gut health, nutrition, exercise, stress response, reducing risky behaviors, improving your relationships - or would like to discover what aspects of your lifestyle may be putting you at risk of developing dementia...
please reach out to me for a
Complimentary Discovery Call: https://linktr.ee/HealthCoachForYou.
All my best,