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Losing ability to drive may lead to depression

Q:  A few years ago my father decided my mother should no longer be driving due to her increasing confusion and a minor fender-bender. When this first occurred he was always willing to take her wherever she wanted to go. When his health started to deteriorate last year he didn’t feel well enough to continue being her designated driver. I call on the phone and my mother sounds depressed and complains about being stuck in the house all the time. I don’t live in the area so I can’t take her out on a regular basis. Do you have any ideas how I can help?

A: Whenever an older adult is involved in an automobile accident it is almost inevitable it will be the impetus for media coverage or discussions within families about when is an elder too old to continue driving. The issue should not necessarily be based strictly on age but rather the skill set a person has when it comes to getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. We probably all know an older adult who is no longer qualified to be driving yet there are many in this population who still use good judgment and are safe to continue using their automobile.

Some would think once the keys are taken away the problem is solved. Not so. Whenever the decision is made either by a family member, physician, law enforcement or the individual themselves that driving is no longer an option other concerns may arise. For many older adults giving up their car and driver’s license is a significant symbol of the loss of freedom. Unless alternatives and community options are available, the individual may be left with the fear of being stranded and homebound. An individual’s physical and mental health may suffer when driving ceases and outside activities dwindle. It appears this is very likely what has happened with your mother.

Your mother no longer has the ability to be spontaneous since she can’t just get in the car and take off at will. Her entire lifestyle has changed dramatically. Her depression may continue to spiral downward unless resources are put into place. You may not be nearby but you can assist by calling the Senior Center and local Area Agency on Aging to inquire what transportation resources operate in your mother’s neighborhood. Get in contact with some of her friends or neighbors to inquire if any of them would be willing to help out. Your mother could offer to cover the cost of gas and parking fees for anyone who would volunteer to drive her around.

A point to be made is when the ability to drive is taken away from someone, serious thought should be given as to a replacement.

 

Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to ageinfo@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services.