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How to get a parent with Dementia to understand they can't drive anymore

Armen Hareyan's picture
Dementia and Driving

What to do when your parents who has Dementia, should not drive and how to take a drivers license away from an elderly parent who suffers from Alzheimer's disease?


Today I read a very interesting and actual discussion on Support for Dementia & Alzheimer's Caregivers Facebook group about how to get a parent with Dementia to understand she can't drive anymore. "She brings up driving with her doctor each visit (she goes for check up every 6 weeks). Taking her to outings help, but she forgets the next day that she's gone, and I don't know hot to get my parent to understand that with her Alzheimer's she can't drive anymore," asks Lisa in the group, who cares for her mother.

Here are some good or tried answers from children who are caring for their parents with Alzheimer's Disease or spouses and whom they had to say it's time to stop driving. Some have done it themselves, others have done it through their doctors and yet others have done it through DMV.

My mom doesn't have a car. I tell her to look on the bright side, she will never have to go any where alone. The DMV wouldn't give her a license either. I have repeated all this for years. She still THINKS she can drive and I don't take it away from her. - Jeri

I had the doctor tell my mom, then I took the keys. It was rough. When she tried to blame me and then the doctor, I told her it's the illness' fault and I am so sorry and I will take her wherever she needs to go. It took at least a month for her anger to start to fade and she still cries about it sometimes. It's probably been a year. - Kristie

Taking the car keys from an elderly parent had to be the most difficult part of this Dementia journey that I had to tackle on my own. I just took over the driving to get use to the Florida roads, which was true after moving from New York. Have your parent's doctor tell her or do whatever you need to do. For me it was hiding the keys and telling her she must have misplaced them. Months and months of my shenanigans, but we are now passed this, thank God, and I have stories that would make your toes curl. You need to do whatever needs to be done. I didn't want mom getting the pedals mixed up and killing someone. I just remembered what moms doctor told mom and it may work for you. She told mom that because she was on medications that will make her dizzy she didn't want her driving till next blood work. That gave me 6 months of difficult time with mom, but there was no driving - Vea

In our case there was no understanding. We just had to take the keys and deal with the raging, threats to walk off and leave or call the cops on us, until it passed. It took about 6 months for him to finally quit mentioning driving. - Crystal

Taking away their car is so hard. It’s more about their need or want for independence. I don’t know the answer to this other than what has been suggested, but you may find that you have to have the conversations frequently. My mom was in an accident a year ago and totaled her car. So thankfully she no longer has a car. I had her tested and she failed and her license was revoked. The doctors explained this all to her, we have talked many times about it and that she can’t get insurance, but she doesn’t remember it. Last Monday I found out she rented a car and has been driving for a few days! I had not been able to get her physical license away from her yet and she needed ID. I live an hour from her and have a 2 year old so it’s not easy to get to the DMV, but I will be getting out there soon. I also realize that she could go buy a car if she wanted, not even sure you need a license to do that. - Erin

Our doctor refused to tell my father not to drive. To be fair, he is a slow progression, but it made me mad. It's better to start sooner than later. If they leave it on the families, it can make it impossible to provide care. If we get his license revoked at the DMV that isn't going to make him not drive. When my mother tried to get him to not drive he had multi-day anxiety rage fits. Over the past 2 years we have instead moved to a place with a lot of things in walking distance, purchased bikes, and started with grocery delivery. We even used Uber a few times. We can't get rid of cars completely because my mother and other family members still drive. He hasn't driven in a while now, but he sure keeps a tight hold on his keys. I am the daughter and am slowly getting him used to me driving him. I tell him that I need to practice my driving and ask him to help keep an eye on other cars for me. - Ang

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I just had to be blunt. I told him the doctor said no more driving. We had to hide the keys until the cars were sold. - Kerry

I had the doctor send mama for testing and they reported to DMV. It was the only way to get her to stop without it being me. She has no idea it was me who instigated the process. - Joyce

That stuff would never work for my husband, but what seems to be working is I explained that with his diagnosis any accident even if not his fault, the insurance will not cover it. They could put a lien against our home and we would lose our investment. Every once in awhile he brings it up but so far so good. - Bonnie

I told my mother if she hurt someone while driving, and they find out about her memory problems, they will sue her and take everything, her house and all her money. - Kimberly

It's really difficult as they loose their dignity. So how can you lift their dignity yet keep them safe. You know them. I realized with my hubby that I need to be vigilant in lifting his pride for a period of time and then he accepts and relaxes into trusting me. Something that we talked about early in his diagnosis was his need to trust me, and that the decisions I make are for his good. I remind him of this often. We have laughed together about where we would end up if he took the wheel. Hope there's something in this that helps. - Val

I told my mom she is a princess now, and has earned the privilege to be chauffeured. - Dianna

My mom hasn’t drove in over 4 years. Her car sat in the garage for years. Last spring we were looking to get my college son a car and she asked why he couldn’t drive hers. He wrote her a thank you note and we put it on the fridge. To this day she asks about that car. She doesn’t even realize she doesn’t have the keys. But I have a certain peace knowing it’s not here. And when we visit my son at school or he comes home, she sees how well
He takes care of it and is happy. It’s definitely our biggest struggle. - Kathi

Next Avenue has very good and useful tips in this article, titled Diagnosis Dementia: When to Stop Driving. It concludes that "balancing safety with respect for an individual’s desire to drive can be difficult and emotionally trying. Enlist the support of other family, friends, caregiver support groups and health professionals when making and implementing difficult decisions about driving."

On the other hand, "when an individual is diagnosed with dementia, one of the first concerns that families and caregivers face is whether or not that person should drive. A diagnosis of dementia may not mean that a person can no longer drive safely. Some individuals, recognizing the risks, will limit or stop driving on their own," reads the article, published at Caregiver.org.

As you can see taking the keys away from a parent who has Dementia is a very difficult decision and sometimes a struggle. If you have been in a similar situation, please share with eMaxHealth readers how you have handled the situation gracefully. You can make your voice heard in the comments section below. If you liked this article and think it may help your friends, consider sharing or tweeting it to your followers.