How to help your parents hang up the keys

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I didn’t hear about it right away. Mom wouldn’t have told me except she had to explain why Dad was forbidden to drive after dusk.

Seems he ran a stop sign and, when turning right, he ran into a bicyclist who flew up onto his hood and windshield. It was just after sunset, when his eyesight was at its worst because of macular degeneration. This condition causes loss of vision in the center of the visual field, but peripheral vision remains somewhat intact. Recognition of faces, reading and driving become very difficult to impossible.

The bicyclist had some bruises but was otherwise all right. The police were called, however, and Dad was written up for failure to heed a stop sign. Eventually the judge ordered him not to drive after dusk.

This was actually a relief to me because we had been talking to him for a couple of years about our concern for pedestrians. We told him he could lose everything if something awful happened, not to mention the accident victim’s prognosis.

I was so frustrated that he was somehow getting his license renewed every year. Knowing he had an eye exam coming up in order to renew it again, I called his doctor and identified myself. The conversation went like this:

“Doctor, I am very concerned about Dad and his driving. How is it he keeps getting his license renewed?”

“Well, I don’t understand it myself because I haven’t passed him the last couple of years,” the doctor answered.

“Really? Somehow he passes the test at the DMV,” I said. “Maybe I need to call them.”

“That might be a good idea because, as far as I’m concerned, he shouldn’t be driving,” the doctor said.

I next called the DMV. Turns out, Dad knew the woman behind the counter. Who knows if she was passing him, but I let her know how important it was that he not drive anymore.

Dad went for the eye exam and to DMV never knowing that I’d made these phone calls. Was it wrong of me to go behind his back?

Perhaps.

Was it wrong that he lose his license? Not at all.

The amazing thing was that, when he got the letter saying he no longer had a license, he actually hung up the keys and told us about it. I say this because he had continued to drive after dusk now and then after the judge said he couldn’t.

Thus began the next phase — more dependency. But he took it on nobly. This made it so much easier for Mom and me.

Perhaps your parent is resisting turning over the keys to you. You may have to make a phone call to their home state’s DMV or DOL. Here in Washington, there is a form available at http://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/reportunsafe.html for family members or concerned citizens. The information provided is not confidential, and the driver can ask for a copy. However, when you weigh the possible consequences against the tension on a family relationship, taking action may be the only option.

Patty Knittel is employed at Walla Walla University’s School of Nursing. An only child, she was caregiver for her aging parents, and writes about caregiving and other aging-related topics. She and her husband, Monty, live in Walla Walla. Email her at knittelpa@gmail.com

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