Getting Grandma to Give up the Keys
May 13, 2011 4:16 PM   Subscribe

My grandmother is getting too old to drive. We know it, but she doesn't. Any ideas of how to deal with this?

Some background: She's in her 80s. In the last 5 years she's been in two wrecks. One arguably wasn't her fault, but her car got totalled. In the other, she fell asleep at the wheel and drove into a ditch. Luckily no one was hurt.

Since then she's spent some time in the hospital and in rehab for various unrelated old people problems.

But now she's on the mend (relatively speaking) and wants to drive again.

Some family members are lobbying for her to take a drivers' test, others are threatening to have a state trooper friend come over give her a field sobriety test to prove she's not physically capable. Only one of us lives in the same state as her.

She has a hard time talking about it, because she's got that midwestern "everything's always fine" attitude and refuses to acknowledge problems. Also one of her friends stopped driving recently, and has been incredibly depressed ever since.

My feeling is we won't get her to listen if we humiliate or alienate her. Anyone have any experience with this issue and/or have any advice?
posted by blapst to Human Relations (23 answers total)
Also one of her friends stopped driving recently, and has been incredibly depressed ever since.

It might help it she felt you guys were considering this end of things. How can she still feel/be independent? How can she still go see her friends? How can she still go get food? How can she still get to church and/or her other activities?

Is she going to now be reliant on Meals-on-Wheels for food, or for a family member to stop by when they have the time in their busy schedule? Is she going to now be reliant on family members for her social life, whenever they have a spare weekend afternoon to come over in between all the other stuff in their lives?

Can you guys afford to have a driver come by every day to take her wherever she wants to go and drive her back? Could you chip in with a couple of her friends for this? Maybe the depressed one who doesn't drive anymore.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:28 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Where does she live? Is public transportation an option?

I see shuttles picking up elderly people that take them to grocery stores, doctor's appointments, etc. I'm not sure if these services are provided by the city or a private company but I know I've seen wheelchair accessible public transport Trimet vans (I'm in Portland, OR) picking up my neighbor.

Find out what services/resources there are for her because I think not being able to drive would be less difficult to accept if she has access to alternate means of transportation. We have some great non-profit agencies whose services are geared towards the elderly population. Find some in your area and ask them for suggestions.
posted by loquat at 4:28 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think one major possibility is that your Grandmother may know that she's not a good driver any more, but may be scared of how isolated and how unable to take care of herself she'll be if she can't drive herself to social events or on errands anymore, especially given her friend's experience.

I think part of what you'll (as a family, not just you) need to do before having this conversation is familiarize yourself with the services that are available in her town for elderly individuals who can no longer drive. I think that however you have this discussion (I'm sure others are more qualified to speak to that), if you come ready to show her how she can still easily get everywhere she needs to, you'll experience less resistance.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 4:29 PM on May 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

Some suggestions in this previous thread on how to handle taking away my elderly parents' driver's licenses.

There is a documentary, Old People Driving, by Shaleece Haas (disclaimer: I knew her a long time ago, but am not in touch with her now) that is meant to help start conversations like this. I'm not sure how you can get a copy of it, I believe she sells copies through her website but there may be other methods. (review of Old People Driving)

My suggestion would be to figure out (or engage her in figuring out) an alternative way for her to get around so she does not end up feeling isolated and trapped at home. Does her area have a free or low-cost senior shuttle service? Is there a way to pre-arrange rides for her, with a taxi service or a local club or group?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:33 PM on May 13, 2011

I am noticing that a lot of older people don't even LIKE driving all that much- they just like the freedom. If you arrange shuttles and a taxi service that's always on call for her, she might give up driving on her own. If possible, maybe go with her the first few times on the shuttle or taxi to normalize it. The first couple times of anything is hard for everyone.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:45 PM on May 13, 2011

Do you have power of attorney? That gives you a lot more leverage to say up-front that giving up the car is non-negotiable (which it is - she will injure herself and/or others if she keeps driving). One of my grandmas was terrifying to ride with for years before she finally hit something.

N-thing the concern about how your grandma is going to get food / to doctor appointments / social time. Has your family talked about what will happen when she can't live on her own anymore? Because that time may have arrived. Both of my grandmas moved to live near adult children (but still in their own apartments) when they stopped driving. As a side benefit, their health improved after this because they were more active and one discovered untreated health problems.

Involve the authorities as a last resort. You're right that that is humiliating, and it also shows your grandma that her family members are untrustworthy, which is not helpful.
posted by momus_window at 4:46 PM on May 13, 2011

Your mileage may vary with this depending on a number of factors, but my family dealt with this issue with our very stubborn grandmother (who was clearly showing signs of progressing alzheimer's) by disconnecting her car battery, letting her see that the car wouldn't start, and having the car towed to a sympathetic mechanic. From there it was a perpetual series of white lies about major repairs, parts on order, etc. This may be harder to run on someone who is more cognitively intact; however, you might do something similar to ease the transition for a few weeks and then make it look like the cost of repair would be exorbitant. From there, once she's had a little bit of time to acclimate to taking the bus or whatever, you might revisit the driving question with more success. Obviously there are some ethical/trust questions here, but you'll have to weigh those against perceived level of risk to self and others.

Barring that, primary care docs deal with this issue a lot, as they have the power to legally restrict/rescind driving privileges. In general they are very hesitant to do this, but they may be a good intermediary to have this conversation with her and could possibly make this whole thing easier to swallow with some quasi-medical talk, particularly given the history of falling asleep behind the wheel.

Good luck.
posted by jimmysmits at 5:26 PM on May 13, 2011

I don't suppose she lives in Illinois? If so, the state mandates that after a certain age (75 or so), drivers must take an on-the-road driving test every year to prove they are still capable.
posted by DrGail at 5:30 PM on May 13, 2011

The suggestions in the other thread (linked above) to report her to the authorities are quite apposite -- a letter to the DMV, in many states, is enough to initiate the process of revoking an elderly person's license. And honestly, as hard as it may be to do that, you really owe it to everyone else on the road to make sure she doesn't drive any more.
posted by jayder at 5:31 PM on May 13, 2011

My feeling is we won't get her to listen if we humiliate or alienate her.

You're definitely right about this. The advice above is good: listen to her concerns and work with her to find strategies so she can retain her independence. However, there is the possibility that despite your gentle reassurance and problem-solving approach, she may still be resistant. If this is the case (as it was with my 89 year old great-aunt), you may need to move to Plan B. Here is how we handled it.

In the case of my relative, none of us has POA, and she does not have children, so we (meaning her nieces/nephews & great-nieces/nephews) had fairly limited avenues of direct intervention. When she refused to budge on the issue even after another hair-raising accident (no one was hurt but there was damage to the vehicle), our next step was to contact her doctor. The doctor approach is good because it shifts the blame away from "my meddling family" to a more impersonal third party. Also, elderly people will often listen to their doctors more than they'll listen to their children/grandchildren.

Unfortunately, my great-aunt's doctor dismissed our concerns and continued to sign off on her driver's license renewal. We were really worried she'd hurt herself or someone else, so we submitted something called an Unsolicited Driver Fitness Report [on preview: what jayder suggests] to the appropriate government body. There is almost certainly a similar reporting process where you live--try googling the name of your state/province and phrases like "driver fitness" "elderly driver safety" "senior driving safety" etc., or call up your motor vehicles branch and ask them. In my province, this is a confidential process, which was important to us as we still wanted her to be able to trust us to help her.

It took about seven months for them to do something about it (and there was no flag put on her license, so my great-aunt was able to RENEW IT in the meantime--gah), but eventually she got a letter suspending her license until she took a driver fitness test. She failed the test spectacularly, and although she was given the chance to appeal, she chose not to. She has now agreed to ask her nearby niece for rides or take taxis when she needs to go somewhere. My family is helping her sell her car so she can put that money (and what she'll save in insurance and gas) toward taxis.

Good luck. This is a stressful situation, but it is very good that you and your family are doing something about it before your grandma hurts herself or someone else.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:43 PM on May 13, 2011

When it was time for my grandfather to stop driving, my family just took his car away. Period. Like, one day my uncle came by, got the keys, and drove the car away. They told my grandfather that he'd taken the car, and that my other uncle would be by the next morning to take my grandfather to breakfast at the regular spot. And that was that.

BUT, that only worked because (1) my grandmother was pretty much housebound at that point and he didn't want to leave the house for very long without her, (2) my two aunts and uncles were all just a few blocks from them and would constantly stop by and take my grandfather out -- to breakfast, to the grocery store, or just out for a drive, and (3) my grandparents were really social people and had regular visitors who would stop by to see them, sit and visit, etc. (Also, my grandfather's memory had really begun to slip, so he eventually just didn't remember that it had only been a few days/weeks/months since he'd been able to drive.)

Had they/he been completely isolated at home (both before and after my grandmother died), it would have been a lot harder on my grandfather, because he really did love the freedom of being able to drive wherever and whenever he wanted. So I agree with everyone who says you need to consider how to ensure that your grandmother doesn't become isolated by not being able to drive. Whether there are services that will come pick her up and take her to church or to the hairdresser's, or family who can stop by regularly, or even just friends and neighbors -- if her car is her only link to the outside world, it has to be replaced with something.
posted by devinemissk at 5:50 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

You know what? You haven't convinced me she's not safe to drive; you're going to have a much harder time convincing your grandmother. So far your major piece of evidence is ... she's in her 80s. Imagine you have a friend in her 20s. She's been in two wrecks in the last 5 years, one (arguably) not her fault, one she fell asleep at the wheel. Are you going to try and take her license away? Do you expect to succeed? Do you think she will be convinced?

I'm not saying you're wrong - I'm saying you need to marshal your evidence and present it better than you have here if you hope to convince your grandmother.
posted by zanni at 6:21 PM on May 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

This happened with my grandfather some years ago, and his son (my uncle) ended up hiding his keys, which infuriated him and helped no one. The truth was, the car was a sense of security for him as well as independence. He didn't plan to go joy-riding in it, and people were around to take him on errands, but he wanted to know that if anything happened and he absolutely needed it, his car would still be there for him.

But backing up a few years, before he'd come to terms with how dangerous he was behind the wheel, the only thing that worked was to have his doctor tell him he wasn't healthy enough to drive. He was of the generation that listened to the doctor as an unquestionable authority, so if the doctor said he couldn't do it, he wouldn't.

My mother asked the doctor to please err on the cautious side before giving him the ok to drive again, and every time he asked the doctor about it, the doctor had a valid reason to say no.

Please make sure your grandmother can still get around with a certain amount of freedom without driving by herself, and treat the topic with compassion. It's tough enough to lose competence without everyone you know pushing the issue.
posted by nadise at 6:37 PM on May 13, 2011

If you take away her car, you need to find her a solution to still allow her to get around and have a life without her car. I don't know what that solution is, but it needs to be solid if you are going to sit down and seriously tell her she needs to stop driving. I agree that humiliation is not the way to go. This is a hard thing to talk about and a hard thing for her to accept, but she doesn't sound unreasonable. She just sounds like she needs someone to help her face the reality of her ability to safely operate a vehicle and to find a solution to no longer having a car.
posted by whoaali at 6:42 PM on May 13, 2011

I've done this before and it works.

Call the local PD in her town. Tell them about the situation.

In my experience:
1. They kept the conversation private.
2. They "busted" the pensioner for bumping into a garbage can coming out of his driveway.
3. One thing lead to another, the old dude had his license taken away in the nicest most administrative way ever.

I think that was great, as they could have locked his old balls up in jail for all the shit he had done while driving recklessly.

Good luck...and call the cops.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:43 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's easier for an old person to accept a diagnosis of serious illness than it is to give up their driver's license. Take a moment to think about the impact it would have on you and try to realize that it's no easier for a person who's been driving for 50 years than it would be for you. For me, the answer was a scooter. Without it, I don't think I'd even want to go on. The van services here require you to be ready - at the curb - an hour before the time you're expecting pick-up (even in very bad weather) and they can be up to an hour late in picking you up to come home. Then, once on the van, they may take a half dozen people home before you - it's all up to the driver. I've had a trip to the grocery that should have taken an hour take five hours - seriously. No more ice cream if you take a van, for sure. If you're prepared to drive your parent everywhere, fine, but you're going to be surprised how many places they need to go - let alone where they want to go, and you're going to get real tired of trucking them around, guaranteed. Your old people don't want to be a burden to you, either - that humiliates them and encourages them to just give up and be done with it. Taxicabs cost a fortune where I live - about $20 for a 4-5 mile one-way trip - very few of us can afford that on a routine basis. If you absolutely must stop the person from driving, getting the car to break down first may be a good idea because it turns the blame to the car instead of to yourself. But seriously consider a scooter - mine plugs in every night, goes about 12-14 miles on a charge, rides on the regular bus, carries nearly everything for me. The grocery, pharmacy, library, doctor's office, physical therapy, movie theater - all are accessible easily. I bought mine used on Craigslist for $650, and that's about what you should pay. Sorry to be so long-winded, but it's a very serious problem and it needs a workable solution. Good luck to you all.
posted by aryma at 9:19 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

With both of my grandmothers, their doc was the one to make the decision that driving privileges needed to be taken away. One was prepared for the idea, the other now lies to her doc about her condition and tells him on every visit that she is just fine, even though she falls frequently and has other issues. So ymmv.

Also, in our area, the city offers low cost taxi vouchers to elderly residents, so that may be a help. But you really do need to start coming up with some alternatives for her errands and appointments. The uncooperative grandma now has the help of a home healthcare nurse a couple of days a week, for a few hours on those days, to take her around and otherwise help her get things done.

Oh, also, this is something that a social worker at the hospital or the doctors office can help give you advice on. They are supposed to act in an advisory or advocacy role for the patient, not just as someone who fills out forms or reports.
posted by vignettist at 10:21 PM on May 13, 2011

With my grandmother (who was actually a reasonably safe driver until the end, but could not remember where she was going, and it wasn't safe for her to be lost in weird parts of the city), my dad and uncle disconnected the battery and told her the car was broken. At the same time, they also had her doctor call in to the DMV, who made her take a driving test (she became disoriented and failed, not a surprise).

BUT- they had a routine planned for my mom and aunt to take her to all her regular appointments and grocery shopping etc., and my mom lived about a half mile away and stopped by most days and was always available for rides whenever. Grandma also had (slightly younger) friends from church who made standing appointments to take her out. She was okay with it because there were alternatives and she wasn't trapped in the house.

So, yes, nthing the idea you need to investigate the alternatives in her area (senior shuttle, taxi rides/vouchers, public transit, friends, church, ?) and figure out which ones are most workable and easy to access. If she doesn't have family around, then family needs to be willing to set things up and investigate from afar so the idea will be less threatening when the family brings the issue up.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:04 AM on May 14, 2011

Strictly speaking, old age is not a disease. There really isn't an age at which one can no longer drive. Various physical or mental problems are reasons. I'm wanting you at least to some extent consider that these physical or mental problems might happen to anyone and then approach the problem as if it were your own. If she is mentally sharp, she might work with you to find workarounds to keep her life as she wants it. You have received some good suggestions.

It might be necessary to have a very hard conversation with her. If so, be firm but empathetic and focus on solutions. Somewhere in our heads, we are always all those younger selves, no matter how many years show on our faces. Some of our freedoms are hard won and we don't like to part with them. Be sensitive to how punitive big changes can feel.

I'm 76 and have an illness that limits me and will doubtless do me in but that doesn't frighten me. I had made changes years earlier when I was still extremely active precisely in order to get rid of my car in favor of a bicycle so I'd already transitioned from driving. Although I don't go out much, I have a very pleasant life. Still there are things I might be forced to give up which I dread. I dread losing the ability to think clearly, losing my computer, powering down.

I am stubborn but not entirely stupid. I agreed after a frightening ordeal a few years ago that my son's assessment of what he needed me to do in order to be safe would outweigh my wishes and even his desire to respect my preferences. I agreed because we had that scare and finally had that honest conversation. I needed to know he understood what frightened me and he needed me to understand what frightened him. We aren't frightened of one another any more.
posted by Anitanola at 12:08 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Talk to her doctor. Most physicians are capable of and in many states are actually required to report people who are medically unfit to drive to the DMV. If he agrees with your assessment, he should be more than happy to be the "bad guy," i.e. the one who tells her it's time to stop driving. That way the family can be sympathetic and supportive while being secretly relieved that 1) grandma doesn't have the keys anymore, and 2) they didn't have to initiate that conversation.
posted by valkyryn at 4:53 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

For my FIL, a home health aid took over the driving. It made a big difference that she drove his car because that made him feel more in charge and less humiliated. He would give very specific directions, comment on driving, etc. which could be annoying, but oh well. When that car died he bought, at 95, he bought a new yellow VW bug that I doubt he ever drove. When he died at 102 it had about 10K miles on it and we gave it to the caretaker.
posted by carmicha at 6:15 AM on May 14, 2011

Just a small addition to what's been said here that I didn't know about until helping my father. See if you can find a doctor or practice specializing in geriatric care. This person would have a "big picture" coordinated approach to chronic issues and psychology. He or she may even have an in-house social worker who can help everyone navigate the various inter-related legal and social issues, including how all of this affects the family.
posted by Ozarkian at 8:49 AM on May 14, 2011

Apologies if this is obvious and has been explored but I am noticing now that my parents (and clients) are getting up there that what I would have dismissed as senility or dementia has often turned out to be bad drug interactions. Fix that, and you get your old self back, to a great extent. Worth considering and worth getting a second MD opinion about her meds.
posted by small_ruminant at 6:35 PM on May 14, 2011

« Older From Seriously Uncool to Subzero!   |   Please help me find an article from an... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.