By Frank S. P. Yacino
This is the eighth in a series of articles written by Frank S. P. Yacino regarding Alzheimer’s disease. He is the husband and caregiver for his wife Barbara who has been struggling with this disease for over fifteen years.
This question is one that comes up most often at our support group meetings. It’s a difficult decision and my favorite saying to the group is “that we must think with our heads and not our hearts”. We have found that there is no one response to take care of each individual patient. In previous articles we have noted that no two patients are the same as far as their progress in this disease. We will detail in this article how Barbara surrendered her license, which she called her “riding car”.
No one wants to give up their license to drive, and lose their independence, especially the elderly who feel they are still capable of driving. At this stage in their lives independence is a necessity if they wish to go anywhere or do anything. Many may not have family close by or friends who drive and they feel the need to be free to come and go as they please. This is all well and good if they are still healthy, capable, and able to drive. But when it comes to a person who has Alzheimer’s they will tell you they can do anything, including driving. This is the time when the caregiver has to step in and take over the situation. This is a very serious matter and is not to be taken lightly.
During the year 2003 we all began to feel edgy each time Barbara would leave the house when I was at work. I’d ask her not to go anywhere while I was gone but apparently she didn’t heed my warning. Each time I would come home I’d feel the hood of the vehicle and it would be warm, thus telling me that she had gone somewhere. At this point in time she wanted to be independent, but we as a family didn’t want anything too happen to her or anyone else. We all knew and understood what an accident could do to her, the vehicle, and other people that might be involved, the biggest of which would be to have a fatality and end up in a lawsuit which could be devastating.
So in late October of 2003 I decided to speak to a local police chief about this issue. Based on what I told him about Barbara and her diagnosis he suggested that he’d notify the registry of the matter and they in turn would send Barbara a letter asking her to “surrender” her license to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), with the caveat that if her health should improve she could re-apply for her right to drive.
While we were waiting for all this paperwork to be done the holidays were approaching. Barbara was continuing to drive and shopping for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just before Christmas she drove to the Auburn Mall for gifts while I was at work. This angered me at that moment because she drove on Routes 395 and 290 to get there. On Christmas Day that anger went away when I opened my gift from Barbara. She had gotten me two dress shirts. I gave her a hug and kiss, thanked her for her thoughtfulness and asked her to ask me from now on when she wanted to go shopping.
By the end of the year we still hadn’t heard from the RMV so I had to think of ways to disarm the vehicle so she couldn’t drive it anymore. With Barbara’s determination to drive, I had to be creative in counteracting that desire. The first thing I did was to unplug the electric cord to the garage door opener. This way if she hit the button the door would not go up. Another thing I did was to put the gear box of the vehicle into the neutral position (we had a 4-wheel drive SUV). Barbara would have no idea how to rectify both those items so she could drive the car out of the garage. You may be saying to yourself “why didn’t you just take the keys away from her”? Well, I did, but she had a spare key I didn’t know about, until she told me she tried to start the vehicle and the door wouldn’t go up. After I took that key away all of the keys were hidden where she would not find them. Barbara was quite mad at me for doing this but it was necessary to do at this stage of her disease.
A few other ways to disable a vehicle include removing the driveshaft, remove the battery, spark plugs, or put the car up on blocks and remove the tires. The caregiver will have to be very creative throughout the progress of this disease.
On January 31, 2004 Barbara received a letter from the RMV stating that the Medical Affairs Branch had been notified of concerns to her functional ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. Attached was a medical form that had to be filled out by her doctor (neurologist). I personally brought the form to the doctor on February 2, 2004 to have it filled out and returned it to the RMV on February 3, 2004. The form basically stated that Barbara had dementia and was not medically qualified to operate a motor vehicle safely.
Barbara kept an accounting of some of her daily activities in daily calendar books. We were fortunate enough to find these books through a cleaning process of the house. I found in the 2004 book a notation of the last time she drove the vehicle. It was February 11, 2004.
On February 11, 2004 Barbara received a letter in the mail from the RMV asking her to surrender her driving license within (10) days. (She had driven that morning before we received the mail.) She was devastated and began to cry and wanted to know why she had to do that. I explained that they felt she was not qualified to drive anymore because of her dementia. (That’s what the doctor had called her diagnosis at this time.)
We haggled over this for two days. Being that upset and me not being able to make her understand what this was all about I suggested to her that we go visit the chief of police that I’d gone to too start the process. She did agree to that and I called him to see if we could meet him at the station and he advised me to come right over. This was on the morning of February 13, 2004. When we arrived I explained what was going on (which he knew anyway) and he asked Barbara to show him her license. She reluctantly handed it over and that was the last she saw of it. He told her he was going to send it to the RMV and that she would get an I. D. card in the mail with her picture on it for identification purposes only. I’m not sure she fully understood what was going on when the chief spoke to her and she asked him if she could have it back. Of course he said “no” and that’s when I got up and said let’s go to Barbara.
When we got into the vehicle she started in right away asking me to go back and get her “riding car” (license) from the chief and accused me of not loving her because I let him take her “riding car” away. She rambled like that all the way home and asked me again to get it back. I dialed the police station number and handed her the phone and said you ask the chief yourself. She did, but the answer was still “no”. Barbara was mad at me the rest of the day.
Twelve days after turning in her license to the chief Barbara decided to take matters into her own hands. On February 25th she was so distraught that she called both the neurologist and the RMV to ask for her “riding car” back. Both calls ended up with a “no” and that made her madder. The next day she received her I. D. card in the mail from the RMV and she thought she was ready to go out and drive. It was difficult trying to make her understand that the card was not a driving license.
Many agonizing hours were spent discussing this subject on a daily basis. If we were out riding she would always ask me to take her for her “riding car”. On March 25, 2005 I had taken Barbara with me to a meeting for a construction project I was working on. She wanted to walk in the area so I let her. A short time later I received a phone call from the police advising me that Barbara was at the local Senior Center looking for her “riding car” and that they’d called the ambulance to take her to the hospital, thinking she was having a seizure. I told the officer to hold up on the hospital part and I would be right there. Once I explained the situation the EMT asked me to sign a waiver form stating that I would accept responsibility for her and her well being, which I did gladly.
For about another year Barbara would still keep asking for her “riding car” and eventually she finally stopped. This was a very difficult phase of her disease for her to go through, and for me as well. However, we did get through it, as all of you caregivers will when the time comes. Remember the one key word that I mentioned in the second article that was published? To refresh your memory, caregivers must have “PATIENCE” with their loved one. We have to be mindful that because they do not understand what is happening to them, we need to show love, care, and compassion at all times.
Through all of this anger that Barbara expressed I knew that I had done the right thing for her safety and the safety of others. To this day, I do not regret what I did at that time. Going back to the first paragraph I reiterate, “we must think with our heads and not our hearts” when it comes to making decisions regarding safety of our loved ones.
- Wednesday, 24 October 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Alzheimer's Series