Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Dad wants to drive. He doesn't like interfering with my schedule, or that of my son, to have us take him places. Although he can afford it, he doesn't like paying a taxi to take him out. And even though he's found he can easily walk to stores to get whatever he needs, he wants to drive. He wants the independence. He doesn't want to admit to his failings and he wants to be a normal guy. I think that in America cars are highly symbolic of virility and strength.
In March Dad had his driving evaluated by an occupational therapy organization that routinely evaluates driving ability. The recommendation was that Dad not drive. A report was sent to his Doctor. Dad stopped driving. When Dad decided to divorce my step-mother he also decided he needed to be able to drive again. Although he hadn't actually lost his license, as nothing was submitted to the State, he requested a re-evaluation from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Dad studied for the written test and he passed both it and the driving test. Dad began driving again.
Do I think Dad should be driving....I'm not sure. I worry that he will suddenly realize that he needs to turn and he won't check to see if other cars are in his way. I worry that he will be distracted by trying to change the heat setting or radio, and won't see another vehicle/person/road barrier until too late. It used to be that I didn't worry about him getting lost, but now that he's moved and is in unfamiliar neighborhoods, that actually has happened. Dad decided he needed a battery from Radio Shack. He printed out a map from Google to locate the store but had a hard time getting there anyway. Evidently he mentioned to the clerk that he had gotten lost on his way to the store and perhaps he made a comment about his concern about getting home. A customer in the store, one who obviously has some angel wings hidden under his jacket, led Dad back to his apartment. The good news is that Dad was frightened enough by this experience that he hasn't driven since.
Dad's car has a GPS system built into it. I'm not familiar with how it operates and I keep promising myself that I will sit in the car, program the GPS for 'Home' and then write basic instructions for Dad to operate the system. Dad's iPhone also has a map program and he can get directons on that. However, it too takes many steps that Dad can't seem to remember. I could write step-by-step instructions for using that as well. But,  I haven't done either of these things. I guess my procrastination is rooted in my conflicted emotions regarding his driving.
This week Dad got a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles asking him to turn in his license. Apparently the Doctor finally submitted the report from March with the recommendations that he no longer drive. Dad wants a hearing. Out of principle, I agree with him. In practice, I think I'm happiest with someone outside of the family making the decision. A decision that probably is the best for my dad.


  1. The state finally took my mothers license and I was so relieved to not have to be the "bad guy" and that she was no longer driving. I have to say for me though, her losing her license was the beginning of the downward spiral which eventually led to her going into assisted living. So painful but thanks for sharing it. Take care...

  2. I know painfully well how this feels. Dad could not get off the topic of driving for years and it often threw him into angry outbursts and/or accusations of conspiracy against us (his family) or the government. I became my Dad's chauffeur for quite a while. Those were interesting trips, as I'd always have to keep my eye open for signs that he was becoming angry that he couldn't drive. For a while I drove both him and my Mom, when Dad entered a phase where he was too jealous of Mom (and too dangerous) to let her sit behind the wheel. After a while he became too jealous of me sitting behind the wheel too, so we relied on my Grandpa to take my parents places. It was a heartbreaking nightmare.

    We felt deeply sorry for him, though, because it can't be easy for anyone to lose an important part of their sense of identity or autonomy. It's hard enough for many adults to give up their freedom in this respect and depend on other people for transportation, so it must be painfully frustrating for someone with dementia who doesn't understand why they're losing their freedom but still remember that they used to have it.

    My heart goes out to all dementia patients and their families who are going through this struggle.


I'd love to hear your thoughts!