by Jill Cigliana, MSOT, OTR/L
Program Director, Memory Care Home Solutions
There are many challenges when caring for a parent or spouse with dementia, and one of the biggest hurdles of all is driving retirement. In the dementia training program at Memory Care Home Solutions (MCHS), we meet with hundreds of families every year who are faced with the difficult issue of talking with a loved one about retiring the privilege of a driver’s license. No one wants to revoke this source of autonomy and independence, but everyone wants to maintain the safety of the older adult driver and the good citizens who share the road with this driver. At MCHS we counsel families on a process that allows family members to remain supportive allies and puts formal support around the person with dementia who needs to discontinue driving.
Step 1: Reach out for help and consider a driving assessment. We advise families to discuss driving concerns with physicians. Many physicians will administer cognitive tests that predict driving safety and/or refer a patient for a comprehensive driving evaluation with an Occupational Therapist or Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist for clinical and on-the-road testing. This allows the test results to speak objectively about the need to stop driving, rather than a family member “nagging” about unsafe driving. There are processes in place for physicians to report medically-unsafe drivers to state DMVs. Family members are often unaware that there are also procedures in place for concerned loved ones to anonymously report unsafe drivers to the DMV.
Step 2: Communicate about the issue with respect and validation for the older adult with dementia. Instead of talking to family members about the facts of their impaired thinking skills and reaction times, address the feelings and emotion behind this loss of independence. Agree with your loved one that driving retirement is awful and you wish there could be a different outcome. Get angry with the older adult driver, instead of at her.
Step 3: Identify alternatives to driving. Adults with dementia and their family members benefit from education on the wide-ranging resources available for transportation. In many communities, there are free resources for transportation to medical appointments and essential errands for seniors. Local Area Agencies on Aging are the best starting place to learn about free and low-cost senior transportation options. For those who can afford transportation assistance, paid in-home caregivers provide an excellent value and also assist the senior with preparation for the outing and any help needed while out in the community. Many adults with dementia are not able to utilize cab services, because they struggle to plan and coordinate this service. Driving retirement may also be the right time to discuss a move to a retirement community, where amenities like transportation are included in the monthly rent. We know that people with dementia need social interaction, community engagement, and activity to mitigate the decline of this disease. Transportation is a key ingredient in maintaining health and social connections. When driving retirement is approached with care and understanding, everyone benefits![/fusion_text][/one_full]