Driving with Dementia
Follow us, as Elizabeth Murray tells the moving story of her mother’s battle with dementia. In this blog series, Murray explores every part of the experience of caring for someone with dementia, sharing her memories and insights from it all. Her words serve as a great reminder of the many ways dementia affects our lives, and the lives of our loved ones.”
Driving had always been an important part of my mother’s life. She loved to tell stories about her adventures as a young woman chauffeuring friends from her home in Campbellford to Peterborough, Ontario to watch the Petes play hockey, or taking a carload of women to Buffalo, New York, to shop.
After she was married, my father’s poor eyesight meant that my mother was the main driver in the household and her ability to drive assumed an even greater significance.
My mother was devastated when her doctor notified the Department of Motor Vehicles that she had dementia. After her driver’s license was suspended, she refused to attend social gatherings and resented that she needed me to take her grocery shopping or to the drugstore. Ordinary tasks became an ordeal for both of us. She soon became obsessed with the notion that her doctor had acted in bad faith by reporting her illness and she was determined to have her license reinstated.
One day, she told me that she would be able to drive again if she passed a standard road test. I knew that information wasn’t accurate but I agreed to take her to a Driver Licensing office for the test.
When we arrived, I sat at the back of the room and waited while my mother approached the front counter. A clerk typed information into a computer and then gently shook her head. She explained that there was a detailed process my mother would have to follow if she wanted to get her driver’s license back.
“But the doctor was just acting out of spite,” my mother protested.
By the next day, my mother was furious with me. According to her, just as the clerk was about to return her driver’s license, I held up a sign declaring that she had dementia. The clerk saw the sign and immediately withdrew the license. I was stunned.
At the time, I didn’t understand that driving a vehicle meant more to my mother than a way to maintain her independence. The ability to drive was an integral part of her identity and losing her license was another way that dementia was affecting the life she had long known.
People with dementia should be allowed to drive for as long as possible but when their ability is impeded and they pose a risk to themselves or others their license must be suspended. Contact your local Alzheimer Society to learn how you can support your loved one through this significant life change and help them stay connected with their community.
Retired lawyer and the author of Holding on to Mamie: My Mother, Dementia and Me.
For more information about Elizabeth and her story visit www.holdingontomamie.ca.