How can I get my father-in-law to stop driving even thought he's passed a written test?

Sfcares asked...

My Father-in-law has Alzheimer's and is at the point now where he doesn't remember the names of loved ones, only minimally can join in conversations and has very little short term recollection. Despite that, he still drives short distances! My Mother-in-law refuses to confront him as he gets very angry every time someone mentions to him that he shouldn't drive. He has always had a big personality and old habits die hard and his wife/kids seem to be unable to overrule his wishes. We live cross country which makes it all the more difficult. The crazy thing is he passed a AAA driving test (written not actual driving) 6 months ago. Any suggestions? I'm terrified he is going to kill someone or himself with the car.

Expert Answer

Elizabeth Dugan, a Fellow of the Gerontology Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston, is the author of Driving Dilemma: The Complete Resource Guide for Older Drivers and Their Families.

Thanks for your question. This is such a tough situation -- trying to manage a difficult situation remotely, then add in the family patterns of communication (or not, in this case).

I have a couple of ideas. First, if he has a diagnosis of Alzheimer's I'm going to hope there is a neurologist involved in his care. If so, get your father-in-law scheduled for a follow-up appointment. The neurologist can evaluate his status and determine if he is fit to drive now or not, and set the expectation that driving retirement is inevitable. Coming from a medical professional, the news may be easier for him to accept. Neurologists, unfortunately, have to have these kinds of conversations all the time. But I should alert you to what I found to be somewhat shocking -- early in Alzheimer's some drivers are still ok to drive. The rate of decline varies person to person, and driving is usually something we've done all our lives. So it is embedded in the part of the brain least effected by the disease.

The second idea is to check the state regulations where he lives. Driving is regulated at the state level and states vary in how they address cognitive impairment. But most, if not all, states allow medical providers (and others, like family members) to submit reports to the DMV if a driver is medically unfit to drive. This system works. Most of us prefer to keep things within the family, but sometimes you need the regulatory agency to get involved. To find info on his state check https://www.caring.com/calculators/state-driving-laws. Then go to the state website and search for medical reporting or medically unfit drivers.

My last idea is by far the hardest. If his wife and children aren't raising the issue and you are convinced he is unsafe to drive....you might have to be the one to do it. In-person conversations are better, but even talking about driving fitness on the phone may be effective. Men of his generation tend to hold strong "provider" roles and driving his wife & family is/was an important part of that. Losing that role is going to be a severe loss for him, it won't be something that he hurries to do. But with compassionate love, tangible support from the medical team, and as firm a resolve as his you and your family can do it.

Good luck!