When You Are Concerned - A guide for families, friends and caregivers concerned about the safety of an older driver(When You Are Concerned is also available as a PDF)
"I was married for over 50 years when my spouse died. I eventually got over that loss. But I have not gotten over the loss of my driver's license."
DEALING WITH LOSS AND CHANGE
Leaving the wheel is often a watershed event for an aging driver. It represents the end of a unique form of individual freedom. A freedom the driver may have known and counted upon for most of his or her life.
Now, seemingly overnight, that freedom and all it conveys is gone forever. It is a loss which can be as deeply felt and as significant as any major life-event loss. It is no wonder that the issue of leaving the wheel can precipitate powerful reactions.
What are some of the reactions I might anticipate?
Families, friends and caregivers who intervened with an at-risk or unsafe aging driver reported the following range of responses from the driver:
- "She agreed to the sale of her car."
- "He was resigned to not driving again, and also relieved."
- "At first, he was resentful and sarcastic."
- "She vehemently protested, got angry, cried. She brings it up with relatives and friends. Has gone to see several doctors to try to get them to permit her to drive."
- "He was embarrassed. He does not want to see anyone because he feels the loss of license labels him as unfit."
- "He has reluctantly accepted."
- "It hurt her feelings."
- "She was deeply offended by the intervention."
- "She was negative, sarcastic and angry."
- "There has been withdrawal; depression."
- "Disbelief - How could you do this to me! I don 't believe you did this to me! Talked about his perfect driving record for over 60 years."
- "Denial - She said there was nothing wrong with her driving."
- "Pouting; Resentment; Hostility; Vindictiveness."
- "She was argumentative, difficult."
- "She has ignored me."
- My mother has always been a lady, When DMV took her license, she was furious, she was yelling, foul language and screaming. My father couldn't stand the abuse. My sister and I had to help calm her down. It took 4 days!"
What do I say if my driver is hostile or angry?
- Hear them out. Allow the person to express their anger and hostility.
- Affirm their concerns where appropriate.
- Where appropriate, go over the reasons and the evidence of why driving is now dangerous.
- Where appropriate, review the ramifications of continuing to drive. Explain how an injury could be much more disruptive to their life than not driving. Ask how they would feel if they caused injury to or the death of another person. Ask what the implications would be to their estate.
- Share information about similar situations where a driver refused to leave the wheel when it was time and then later crashed or caused injury.
- Point out that the stresses of driving are now gone. "Mom, you don't have to service the car, worry about parking spaces and how other people drive, right?"
- Point out that concerns they once had (perhaps about crashing or getting lost) are also gone and how much easier their life is now.
- Affirm your desire to help them with transportation now that they have stopped driving. What can I do to help my loved one cope with the loss of driving?
- Help them with their transportation needs.
- Help them to stay involved with friends and the activities they may have been driving to.
- Arrange for a DMV non-driver identification card. Replacing a surrendered license with a DMV non-driver photo ID card does more than just continue the driver's primary form of identification, the card can help a person feel they are still connected to society. See information about the DMV non-driver photo ID card in Chapter 4.
- Provide counseling. Lots of older persons give up driving voluntarily. Some assist in counseling others who have just left the wheel. Contact your area agency on aging, local senior center or senior housing director for help.
- Arrange for your driver to have visitors through the community friendly visiting program. Like Welcome Wagon greeters, "friendly visitors" check in on folks who can't easily get out. For those living alone, it's essential human contact with volunteers who are cheerful and dedicated. Contact your area agency on aging, local senior center or senior housing director for help.
CAREGIVING & COPING
"My mother had a bad crash. It was a newsworthy event. She spent one year in rehab. The accident did not scare her. Like many, we had been holding our breath until this crash. We talked to her doctor. Got him to say no to driving as she was having coordination and confusion difficulties. It was time for her to leave the wheel. She got very depressed she could not drive again. She called me all the time. She wanted me to help her get her license back. To shop for a doctor who would let her drive again. But the doctor was right. She was no longer able to drive safely. Her calls were really upsetting me. I even started seeing myself in the same situation some day. Even though I work in the aging field and know all about dealing with this, it has been a very difficult situation to say the least."
The day an older loved one stops driving often marks the day you begin a transition to caregiver. If you were involved in precipitating your loved one's removal from the wheel, you may also be feeling guilt in addition to your new caregiving responsibilities. The combination can be physically and emotionally draining. You will need to take care of yourself. Here are some of the symptoms and warning signs that you may be needing help:
SIGNALS TO WATCH FOR
- withdrawing from friends
- feeling tired after getting sufficient sleep
- feeling depressed
- feeling resentful
- feeling guilty
- getting easily irritated
SIGNS OF CAREGIVER BURNOUT
- losing or gaining weight
- not sleeping
- loss of appetite
- not seeing friends
- excessive alcohol/drug use
- needing an excessive amount of caffeine
- verbally abusing others
- having suicidal thoughts/tendencies
- take time out
- get respite (someone to give you a break)
- get counseling
- join a support group (one of the most helpful ways to cope)
- get exercise, take vitamins and have a proper diet
- find a friend or relative you can talk to about your situation
- talk with your clergy or church leader
Caregiver assistance is no more than a telephone call away. Your area agency on aging can link you to confidential help. There are also many excellent guides about caregiving available from AARP, the Alzheimer's Association, your local library and the Internet, as well as helpful information about caregiving, support groups and so much more.
Support groups allow for what Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, called the "talking cure." Today, "talking it out" is understood as one of the pathways to coping and feeling better. Support groups are about people with similar situations and stresses coming together to talk, listen and help each other. It is an environment where Freud's "talking cure" takes place. Most leave feeling much better. Not getting a bill from a psychiatrist also helps.