Suddenly I realized the cold hard truth. My heart sank. I told him very quietly that he had to stop driving...Marie Marley, PhD
It was a sweet female voice I didn’t recognize calling to tell me she’d found Ed driving on the wrong side of the road. He’d pulled over and so she’d stopped too, and seeing how confused he was, she offered him a ride home.
Oh, my God! I thought. He could have been killed. Or killed someone else. I was really upset. He knew he wasn’t supposed to drive after dark. He promised me.
I tried to convince myself it wouldn’t have happened had he not been driving after dark. In my denial I failed to make any connection between that event and the many lapses of memory and other signs of confusion he’d been showing for some time.
Yes, he was demented. And no, I didn’t realize it yet.
When I arrived at his apartment that night I demanded to know why he’d been driving after dark. He explained that he’d gone to buy some Italian bread and when he came out it was dark. He said he got ‘meexed’ up (as he pronounced it). He said he turned on the wrong street and got lost.
Suddenly I realized the cold hard truth. My heart sank. I told him very quietly that he had to stop driving.
Then he started yelling that he’d never stop. He said he didn’t care if he ‘keeled’ himself. He even said he didn’t care if he ‘keeled’ someone else.
In the days, weeks, and months after that incident, I asked Ed to stop driving. I begged him to stop. I implored him. Cajoled. Pleaded. Insisted. I ordered him to stop. I alternated that with trying to explain in reasonable terms why he should stop. To no avail. His response was always the same:
“I will never stop driving!”
The problem was that Ed was too demented to keep driving, but still too alert for me to be able to successfully use any of the usual tactics to get demented people to stop.
Had I disabled the car he would have managed to find a mechanic to come to his apartment building to fix it.
Had I hid the keys he would have figured out how to get replacements made.
Had I parked the car around the corner he would have filed a police report. They’d have eventually found and returned it.
I could have tried having his doctor or lawyer talk to him about giving up driving but I was 100% certain he wouldn’t listen to them any more than he’d listened to me.
Finally, at the end of my rope, I decided to threaten him.
As we were having our usual Turkish coffee one afternoon, I looked him right in the eye and said, “Ed, if you don’t stop driving, I’m going to report you to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. They’ll make you take a driving test and you know you’ll fail. Then they’ll take away your driver’s license.”
Ed was at a loss for words for the first time in the twenty-five years I’d known him.
We stared at each other for several seconds, then he asked if I’d like to go to lunch. I agreed, deciding to let it go for then.
I had no intention of turning him in. He’d never speak to me again, which would devastate me. I was just hoping the threat would scare him into giving up driving.
I didn’t see Ed again until the following Sunday, when he delivered what sounded like a well-rehearsed speech. Basically he told me that he couldn’t stop me from turning him in to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, but that if I did it would cost me ‘tousands’ of dollars. Not ‘hunnerds’ of dollars – ‘tousands.’.
It took me a few seconds to understand, but when I finally did, I burst into laughter. He was threatening to disinherit me!
I never did get him to agree to stop driving, but I finally did get him to stop. Slowly, as time passed, I discovered the solution. One day I was going to Kroger’s and asked if he wanted to come. He said he did and I drove.
So I started inviting him every time I went. He was always happy to go and let me drive. Then I started inviting him to various other stores and took him to those, too.
There were problems, however, with taking him everywhere. As he became more and more demented his behavior became problematic. He would sometimes lose his temper and yell at me for no reason.
Sometimes he behaved inappropriately in other ways. Like once at the salad bar he decided he’d taken too much lettuce, so he picked up some from his plastic container with his fingers and put it back in the salad bar while other people looked on. I was mortified.
So eventually I just started having him make lists of all his errands and I did them all for him. It was a lot faster and a lot less stressful for both of us.
And since I had taken away his need to drive, pretty soon he stopped driving. In fact, he never drove again the rest of his life.
However, in an ironic twist of fate, one year he made me drive him to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to renew his license even though he hadn’t driven for years!
Thus, without even realizing it – in my denial, I still didn’t acknowledge that Ed was demented - I’d solved his first serious dementia-related problem.
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