The Case of the Dangerous Driving Mom and Her Daughter

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Here at AgingParents.com we offer expert advice for those who have aging loved ones. Usually it’s the adult child who contacts us to set up an appointment. A woman called with this concern:

 “I’m worried about my mom’s driving” she said. I asked her about what caused her worries. She said that her mom loved driving a lot and drove to visit her from out of state several times a year. There was an upcoming trip planned. “I’m just so anxious,” she said.

What’s getting you anxious? I asked. Is mom confused? No. Any signs of what you think might be dementia? No, not that. Please tell me what you think the problem is, I said.

Well, she’s legally blind” the daughter replied.

I had to contain myself. I was thinking “What??? But I replied calmly.  We devised a plan.

I’d call this is a good example of an adult child being fearful of confronting a parent about dangerous driving. Obviously no one who is legally blind should be driving at all let alone on interstate freeways! The source of concern for adult children of aging parents could be vision problems as in this case, brain disease such as dementia or any impairment that the person sees as unsafe for driving.  Typically families know what’s up. They feel very uncomfortable talking about it and that’s the real problem.

Whatever the reason, someone needs to step in and respectfully confront the older driver about the dangers they present to both themselves and the public. Why hadn’t this daughter asked or insisted that her mother stop driving? “She just loves to drive” she tells me. That is no justification for placing everyone on the road at risk from her mother.

blind driving was from a five-step process described in detail in my book, The Family Guide to Aging Parents. In brief, the first step is a one-on-one meeting. If step one is unsuccessful the the adult child then brings in an ally for a two-on-one meeting. If the elder still resists, as some will, a discussion with professional help can follow. Finally, there is the “intervention” method, which requires a skilled person to lead and all family to participate. As an extreme last resort, one can use legal means to stop the elder.

Studies on aging drivers asked respectfully to give up driving show that most people will do so when asked. But there are still the stubborn ones out there who insist that they are just fine driving anywhere while everyone around them knows they’re not.

We discussed how to approach the subject with her mother and words to use. That’s Step One in the 5 step approach we suggest in my book, The Family Guide to Aging Parents. The next step was to bring in an ally if step one didn’t go anywhere. The daughter had a sister and their mom respected both of them. Step Two was to have the conversation with both daughters present. They believed that would do it, but they had never tried this.  If needed, they could move to Step Three, which was to enlist the help of a professional, such as mom’s doctor, a social worker friend or clergy person. Step Four was to get the help of a professional with expertise in intervention, gather all the family and friends willing to help and meet with mom as a group. As an extreme last resort, they could consider Step Five, using the law to stop the dangerous driving.

This was a clear case of a physical disability—blindness—that should have been an immediate trigger for family action to get the keys and car out of mom’s possession. With advice, they were willing to move forward.

The holiday season, crowded roads and weather only increase the risks of driving. If you have any doubts about your own aging loved one and driving, please do not take the “head in the sand” approach of the daughter I spoke with in this case. She had been ignoring the danger of her mother’s driving for far too long. We can all do better than that in keeping our loved ones safe. If you or your family have a dangerous older driver in your midst, call for your appointment at AgingParents.com today. We can help you strategize with the best approach and you’ll be very relieved to solve this problem or other age-related aging parent things that cause you distress

Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com

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