How can I help my mother deal with her pain and keep her from driving?

5 answers | Last updated: May 19, 2011
Musicblue asked...

My mother is having mild dementia and frequent falls. Her problems are complicated by taking too many pain pills (Vicodin and Darvocet). She has had the pain pill problem for many years. She stays in bed for weeks at a time and thus is very weak when she does get up. She still insists on driving. She had an accident three weeks ago and her car is in the shop. How can I keep her from driving? She has no business driving at all considering everything! Help!

Expert Answers

Laura Juel is an occupational therapist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. She works in the Outpatient Occupational Therapy Program and the Duke Driving Program for older drivers.

This is where you need to enlist the help of the physician who is providing the prescriptions.  Your mother's mild dementia and frequent falls can certainly be made worse by her medications. Most pain pills have caution labels for driving due to their sedative side effects.  In an older person with multiple medications and medical problems, the side effects can be exaggerated. 

I recommend that you talk with your mother and see if you can go to her next medical appointment with her. Give the physician a heads up about your driving concerns and her recent accident. You should ask the physician if her pain can be controlled with medication that has fewer side effects.  It's in the physician's best interest to address this issue, as he could potentially be held liable if he knows that your mother is driving while taking these medications.

If you strongly believe your mother is putting herself and others at risk and she refuses to stop driving, I would recommend that you or her physician contact your state DMV to report her. You should be aware that some states do not have anonymous reporting so she could ultimately find out who reported her (see the American Medical Association's Physician's Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers, Chapter 8).  See also's calculator, State by State Driving Laws for the Elderly.

Given her diagnosis of mild dementia, retiring from driving is probably in her near future, so you should begin talking to her about  alternative transportation options. You can help make this transition easier by routinely offering to take her grocery shopping, to medical appointments, and on other outings.

Community Answers

Loveforu answered...

logic of " would you let your friend drive drunk?" applies. They took care us when we couldn't. this is our second to get to know them. life is full of wonderful joy, like a smile it grows when shared.

Newby1961 answered...

I agree with the 1st post the best thing you can do for yourself as well as your mother is talk to her Dr. there really isn't anything you can say to make anyone stop doing something they want to do, especially someone who is impaired. So I urge you to even call the Dr and talk with him or her. Good luck

Keeping us safe answered...

You certainly are not alone in your concerns with your mother, and the excellent comments from Laura Juel are invaluable.

I would like to add that Keeping Us Safe is a national organization that has developed the "Enhanced Self-Assessment Program" for senior drivers.

This individualized program has been designed to serve as a valuable tool in helping older drivers (and their families) make appropriate decisions regarding the future of ones safe driving career.

If the individual is a safe driver, we provide him or her with strategies on how to remain a safe driver as they progress through the aging process.

If driving retirement is the appropriate decision, then we provide the individual (and their family) with acceptable alternatives, resources and a very specific plan to ensure a smooth and successful transition from the drivers seat to the passenger seat.

We also offer two separate presentations for your group or organization:

  • A Safe Drive Through the Aging Process, and
  • Adults with Aging Parent Drivers

Please visit our website or call toll-free 877-907-8841 to learn more about our exciting and unique programs for senior drivers AND their respective families. We can help!

Matt Gurwell Founder & CEO Keeping Us Safe Twitter: @keepingussafe

Squirrels nest answered...

There are things you can do take the keys ,deflate the tires, anything to keep them off the road. Especially if one accident has occurred. the drivers feelings will be hurt but not as much as they would if they killed someone.Think of the lives damaged forever then. A seven or eight year old child was recently killed in our community by a driver with dementia who,s family were reluctant to hurt their loved ones feelings or their pride by having them stop driving. Do some research on the hazards fast and get the person off the road, your knowingly putting your community at risk. It,s not about the drivers,s feelings, if you don,t have the nerve to get this hazard off the road there are gadjets you can buy to make the battery appear dead, hire someone to deflate the tires drain the transmisssion remove the battery DO SOMETHING before your reluctance turns to regret. Driving is a privelidge not a right, you have to prove yourself to get a licence and it doesn,t come with a lifetime guarantee. Your family could be sued for everything if a tragedy occurred during the period of indecision on how to or who had the guts to put the feelings of the driver aside to protect the innocent members of the community.