Driving and Dementia – How Do I Talk to My Husband About the Effects of Alzheimer’s on His Driving?
Dear Dementia Solutions:
“My husband was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I’m becoming concerned that his condition is hampering his driving abilities. Being in the passenger’s seat can be a nerve-wracking experience, but I don’t know how to approach the topic with my husband. As a driver, he’s always had a ton of experience, a flawless record, and a genuine love of getting behind the wheel. What should I do?”
~Passenger’s Seat Anxiety
Dear passenger’s seat anxiety:
Driving and dementia are sensitive issues, but they are also very important to discuss. Often a family member or friend’s concerns about a person’s driving abilities are more accurate than the driver’s own self-perception, so trust your instincts.
As you’ve noted, your husband enjoys driving. For him and many others, a car is an emotionally significant symbol of independence. Having it taken away can therefore feel like a blow to their self-esteem. This is why it is best to initiate the discussion with your husband at this point, early in his diagnosis. Ideally you want him to make the decision to stop or limit his driving himself, rather than having someone else, such as a doctor, make that decision for him.
Approach the subject when you’re both in a calm mood. Remember that your husband doesn’t necessarily have to stop driving right away. Perhaps he can first stop driving at night, for example, or on highways. Focus on safety as the key issue, but do so while also affirming his past record as a skilled driver and acknowledging that giving up or curtailing his driving is a difficult thing to do. Don’t talk about ‘subtracting’ (taking away) without also offering positive substitutes, such as the financial gain of not bearing car expenses or the reduced stress of not driving in traffic. Also keep in mind that socializing tends to decline when someone stops driving, so it may be a good idea to discuss creative ways for him to maintain his social contacts.
If your husband would be more receptive to discussing this topic with someone else, don’t hesitate to reach out to another family member, your family physician or even a good male friend of his. Above all else, maintaining a supportive and trusting relationship with your husband is most important. I wish you both the best! J
The Residential Care Option – Would It Be Best for My Wife to Be Placed in Residential Care?
Dear Dementia Solutions:
“I’m 84 years old and live with my 80 year old wife who has dementia in an independent seniors’ facility. I love my wife dearly and have been her caregiver since her diagnosis, but I’ve been overwhelmed this past year as her dementia has progressed significantly. She is always wandering off and keeping a constant eye on her has taken a toll on my health. I’m considering whether it may be best for her to be placed in residential care, but feel so guilty for even feeling this way. What should I do?”
Dear overwhelmed husband:
It is obvious that you are deeply committed to your wife, but as her dementia progresses it will become increasingly challenging to care for all her needs. Know that you are not alone in your feelings. It is common for family caregivers to feel they have to do it all and to also feel guilty when they start considering residential care.
So when is it time to consider this option? Here are some questions that may help: Is your physical health suffering? Do you experience feelings of depression, isolation, being overwhelmed or hopeless? Is the health of the family member you are caring for beginning to suffer? Is the safety of your family member being compromised? Are people around you, including your doctor, telling you that it is time to introduce residential care?
Consulting with your family doctor is a good starting point. If you do not have a case manager, ask your doctor to put you in contact with the local health authority. Your local Alzheimer’s Society Resource Center is also helpful in aiding with the process of applying to residential facilities. Remember that there are many supportive resources available and that reaching out to others will also help you allay your feelings of guilt.
I recently read how a wife who had placed her husband in a care facility was struggling with extreme guilt about her decision until she took part in the facility’s care team meeting. She saw that it took about twenty people who worked there to care for her husband, and realized that she used to be those twenty people all wrapped up in one!
Remember that if your wife is placed in residential care, you can continue to care for her and spend quality time with her. Caring for your own health, while also taking steps to care for your wife’s changing needs, will help both of you in navigating this journey together with a greater sense of well-being.
Do you have a specific question relating to dementia that you need answered? Please submit your questions by email to: [email protected]
Karen Tyrell CDP, CPCA is a Dementia Consultant & Educator for Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. (www.dementiasolutions.ca) and the author of the book “Cracking the Dementia Code – Creative Solutions to Cope with Changed Behaviours.” She offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers.