My mother refuses to give up her car keys, what can we to so make her stop driving?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has had several fender benders but still wants to drive. She one time put the house key in ignition when she could not find her car key. She says she will kill herself rather than not be able to drive to her favorite place for food everyday. Right now she is with me living outside of her home state but is insisting on going home soon. We have disabled her car but she has a plan to get it running again. Mom is very non-compliant with medication. She cannot live with her other children living in her home state. Doctor has told her she cannot drive or live alone, she fired him. She cannot get license plate renewed and will drive with expired plates. I try to talk to her about it and she gets angry and cries and accuses me of holding her hostage and making her a prisoner. She called police on my brother in her home state when he tried to stop her from driving. HELP

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 sharing your situation, I'm sorry -- it sounds very, very challenging. It isn't clear to me what your mother's health problems are that make her unfit to drive or why the doctor told her to stop driving. But let's assume she is no longer medically fit to drive. I think a key problem is the discrepancy between how she views herself and how others view her abilities. You, your siblings, and a health care provider have all concluded that she is not safe and not taking care of herself. She does not share this view and wants to continue her old way of life. I would bet she feels like she is losing control and her independence.

So the issue is how do you get her to give up the keys and to accept this next phase of her life? Find ways to promote her independence. If you can find ways to safely allow her to enjoy her old way of life and to make her own choices it may do wonders for her. You mention that she has a favorite place to eat -- could you give her a ride there once or twice a week? Are there other small battles that you can let her "win" that may make losing the right to drive a little easier to accept?

My final word of advice is to take care of yourself. When you find yourself exhausted, rest; when you are at the end of your rope, talk to someone who understands the unrelenting stress of caregiving -- or post on -- folks here understand the challenges you are facing. Make taking care of you a priority, too! You and your mother will both benefit.