Should I let my ex go on a long car trip and help in an emergency, or remove myself from the situation entirely?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 04, 2016
Toyrose asked...

I have been helping my ex-husband for the past year. He was recently diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment "on the verge of Alzheimer's" according to the neurologist.

His daughter is visiting from afar and has arranged to visit my ex's sister who lives in another state. They want my ex to drive about 400 miles to meet with them, then drive the daughter to the airport in a busy metropolitan area; then he will have to drive back home (another 200 miles). He told them he has a bad back and can't drive that far (true) but his sister will not accept the fact that he has memory loss issues and has forced an agreement out of her brother. I am fearful that he will not be able to drive that far successfully. I do not want to deprive him of the pleasure of seeing his daughter, but I do not want to drive him to this meeting because his sister does not like me and is no help at all.

His neurologist says he thinks my ex is okay to drive, but he does not know about this planned extended trip. I cannot approach the man because, as his ex, I have no legal right to interfere.

What would be my best approach to this situation - let him go but be ready to intervene in an emergency? leave town and let them figure it out?

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

WOW! What a predicament! I suspect your fears are well-grounded. Even before Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) develops into Alzheimer's disease, the ability to drive can begin to be impaired. It is not about his knowledge of practical driving lessons such as stopping at red lights or being in the right lane to make a turn, but it is about reaction time, and detours, and processing information, and making decisions, and unfamiliar places, and reading signs, and the occasional need for multi-tasking while driving, etc. All these are affected by MCI. As his physician suggests, he may be "ok to drive" but I'm fairly sure his doctor refers to around town, short distances, and on familiar routes. I guess the question is, "Is 'OK' good enough for a long distance drive"? I think not! How lucky he is to have your support. I'm sure you don't want to interfere with this opportunity for him to have family-time but perhaps his cognitive deterioration (MCI) should take precedence over a family get-together.
You are correct about having 'no legal right' to intervene but perhaps there is a moral obligation to let his daughter know your feelings and try to dissuade her from insisting he do the driving. Four hundred miles is a long trip for anyone without cognitive issues - how about a nice train ride? Do suggest to his daughter that, even if she is not in accord with your thoughts, she does need to have a backup plan and to be prepared to quickly change plans. I suggest this to all families in similar situations. The best you can do is give his family the appropriate information/recommendations and pray you never have to say, "I told you so!" Be well.