When Left is Not Right

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My mom had a group of ladies that had lunch together every month at a different restaurant. The responsibility for choosing the restaurant rotated between the members. I remember one time my mom became particularly perplexed when it was her turn to choose the meeting place. When we discussed it, she told me that one of the ladies had been in an accident when making a left turn and was not comfortable with making left turns anymore while driving. So here was my mom’s dilemma – she had to select a restaurant based on whether or not her friend had to make a left turn to get there. Seriously! I’m not kidding!

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We can laugh (and we should!). However, this brings up a powerfully problematic issue with our elders. When is it time to limit their driving or to stop their driving entirely?

Oh, I’m not saying that I have an answer to that BIG ONE! But, what I will tell you is that it really helps to include your elder’s medical team in this decision. And, it helps to have an independent, trusted person deliver the news – not the family.

My mom volunteered to stop driving. I was lucky. But my father-in-law did not volunteer. We had a private discussion with his primary care physician, who agreed that it was time to stop driving. At the next doctor visit, the physician gently made the recommendation to him. This took the pressure off of his adult children and relieved my father-in-law of the feeling of being “cornered” by his family.

He didn’t like the recommendation, but it came from an independent, authoritative source that he trusted. That is important in big decisions like when to stop driving, when to move to assisted living, and when to embrace home care.

Taking away their “wheels”, as my mom put it, is a hard decision. It puts more responsibility on the family and other caregivers to help get them to appointments, to go shopping, and to keep them engaged in the world outside their home. It is also one of the biggest limitations on independence that your elder will likely face.

However, when their eyesight, their hearing, and/or their cognitive abilities are limited, it is time to bring it up for discussion. Safety of your elders, fellow passengers and others on the road should be your top priority.

Use the medical team, the caregiving team, a trusted advisor, a church pastor, or any other authoritative figure in your elder’s life. An independent and trusted voice will be easier for your elders to hear this hard and challenging conclusion.

Your understanding and empathy for your elders regarding this decision will be important as well. But, heads up, they may still put the blame on you or dismiss your attempts at understanding. Be kind anyway.

Ok, back to my story above. Just think about how hard it would be to get anywhere making only right turns. Hmmm….

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