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Do not pass go – ageing parents and driving :(

I still remember waving my granny off after Sunday lunch; crunching her way through the gears and driving off in a cloud of blue smoke with the acrid smell of burning rubber and brake fluid wafting through the air.  In her day she was a fine driver.  But as she slipped into old age, and dementia, so her driving became somewhat erratic.  The garage wall and door took a fair old beating, and there were at least 2 new gear boxes in as many years.   And then she started losing the car, forgetting where she’d parked it, usually in the supermarket carpark as it goes, but convincing herself, and the police that it had been stolen.  It always turned up safe and sound.

She lived in a quiet village surrounded by similar age people, so I think we thought they were probably all driving in a similar fashion and meeting at the T junction or roundabout was probably a bit like dodgems, with them all gently bouncing off eachother.  I’m not sure it really occurred to anyone to stop her driving.  Fortunately everyone was saved the conversation as she became incapable of driving by herself.

I think about that as I think now about my mother, and her driving, or lack of it.   After her stroke, the return to the open road was one of her goals.   Like my grandmother she was a fine driver.  And never happier than hopping into the car to nip to the one stop shop for something.   Her recovery was long and slow, and we weren’t really sure how far she would actually get.  Dad kept her car going, and there was much talk of when she would be back behind the wheel.   It wasn’t just her physical impairment that held her back, but also her reactions and coordination skills.  She definitely wasn’t as sharp as she had been.

She started practising her driving, going round and round their small front garden – which must have made her very dizzy!  A friend  let her go up and down his slightly bigger driveway.   Then it was felt that perhaps she should have a driving assessment.  Somehow we failed to recognise that this would have huge importance with regard to the DVLA and her keeping her driving licence.   We didn’t see it in the way that we all see the importance of practice before a driving test.  We didn’t think to prepare her at all.

The result was pretty disastrous.  She had her assessment in an unfamiliar car, with 2 apparently scary women “firing” questions at her before they let her loose driving round an old airfield.   They re-appeared somewhat paler than when they had departed, with white knuckles and pinched faces. They said they’d write a report.  So, we waited anxiously.   The report when it arrived was clear.  Horribly clear.   She couldn’t even think about driving for another 6 months, at which point she would need another assessment.   I’m sure they were absolutely right, but that didn’t make it any easier.    My poor mother.   Humiliated after 50 plus years of driving safely.   We just hadn’t thought it through.

Stopping driving has been a sad thing for Mum.  She has lost her independence, and her world has shrunk, badly shrunk.   Dad is now her chauffeur which of course he does more than willingly.   But, it’s the little things that matter.   It’s now a logistical exercise for both of them to enable her to go to the hairdresser.  Mum is completely reliant on Dad just to nip out to the onestop shop.

We have been lucky  I suppose in that we haven’t had to take the car battery out, or relieve her of her keys in order to stop her driving.  And of course we’ve been lucky that there never was a terrible accident. But she hasn’t been a willing party in the decision to stop either.  I wish we had handled it slightly differently.  I’m not sure she would ever have driven again, however much we had prepped her for the assessment.   But we should have thought the consequences through a little more, and really put our minds to the emotional and practical impact it has had, not just on Mum, but on both of them.  Long gone are the days of just nipping out to the onestop shop.

Worried about your ageing parents and driving? See what others are talking about in the Age Space forum and share how you’re dealing with it.