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My wife, 76, had a superior memory all her life but it has declined over the past 4-5 years and is now out in the open between us. She recognizes the decline but sees it as something she can overcome by exercising her brain (to which she refers regularly).


Her main symptoms are loss of short-term and long-term memory. She doesn't remember any of the trips we have taken, has lost familiarity with the streets and stores in the town where we have lived for over 50 years (though she is relearning gradually), uses generic words for specific ones (she might call a kitchen cabinet a closet) and asks me to repeat the date and time of my doctor's appointment 3 or 4 times.


Our two daughters are adamant that she should not be driving for safety reasons, even with me as a passenger. She has gotten lost a couple of times, cell phone to the rescue. Otherwise she is a very careful driver, always has been. We went out recently so she could practice (which she insists is the key to solving her problem of navigation) and she handled the car well but had me confirm which way to turn before reaching every intersection. This was a drive to each of several friends' homes.


She has a mild form of epilepsy (never any blackouts, just momentary "tingles"), is on medication and has been episode free for 3 years. When it was first diagnosed she was prohibited from driving until she was episode free for 3 months and hated this restriction. To have that restriction in place again would be devastating as, again, she thinks she just needs to practice more (to know her way around).


How will I know when she is unsafe to be driving? Again, the girls think it's pretty much now. She has been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment but not dementia so would there be a legal liability if she got in an accident?

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I have a different perspective on this. I am the one with dementia. I have been driving short distances to buy groceries, etc. I have always been a good driver and observe the laws. However. I am also aware that I am easily distracted. Last week, I when I returned home I could not remember where the button was on the car to open the garage. After I sat there for a while my mind cleared and I figured it out, BUT I am giving up driving because what if I have one of those moments WHILE I am driving. It frightens me to think what could happen. The hubs agrees that he needs to be the sole driver now.
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NeedHelpWithMom Feb 2, 2021
Good for you! It’s definitely not worth driving if you are risking lives.

Thank you for setting a great example.

It isn’t easy to give up independence but it is necessary.

I could say that I am proud of you for your selflessness, which I am but I think it is more important for you to be pleased with your own actions and be proud of yourself.
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I agree with your daughters. Your wife is not safe to drive. I also agree that driving is a privilege - that's why the full term is "driver privileges and penalties". Driving involves a lot more than staying within the lines i.e. the white and yellow lines.

When my FIL started showing signs of cognitive decline/dementia, he was still driving. One day he suddenly turned into the wrong lane thinking it was the left turn lane. I was in the car with him, told him he was in the wrong lane, he became flustered, and nearly pulled out into oncoming traffic! I had to shout "STOP!"

Another real risk is her inability to proactively avoid an accident. And cognitive decline/dementia can result in pedal confusion where the driver steps on the gas instead of the brakes.

If your wife is in an accident and it is discovered that she has dementia you both can lose everything depending on how bad the accident is. When your car insurance company discovers that she has dementia, they can decline to cover her after an accident. You will be on the hook personally for any and all damages and a personal injury attorney will make your lives a living hell while the case drags through court. Is it worth it?

Clearly your wife is not making good decisions anymore. She does not need more practice behind the wheel but rather to stop getting behind the wheel. If she won't stop then you must stop her. If she wants to exercise her brain, get her puzzles, books on tape, a new hobby, etc.

Please call your daughters, who are thinking clearly, and tell them you agree with them about getting your wife off the road. At least you will have support from your daughters. Good luck.
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She’s already not safe to drive. And deep down, you know it too.
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Getting old and diagnosed with cognitive impairment really sucks. You know what sucks even more? Your wife killing herself and others while out driving and "exercising her brain" when you and I and everyone else on earth know that's a load of malarkey. She should have stopped driving long ago, and her keys need to disappear immediately. Better to upset her than to cry at her and others funerals. You know it, too, so please do the right thing.
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She is not safe now. Sorry but practicing is not going to help her regain her navigation skills.

If she causes an accident she has liability whether or not she has been diagnosed with dementia, just like anyone else would.

What happens when she gets lost and forgets how to use her cell phone? Do you have a find my phone tracker on her phone? What if she forgets the phone at home?

Yes it is devastating, but it is part of aging.

Have the two of you got all your paperwork, Wills, POAs etc up to date? I strongly advise attending to this. She also needs a full workup with your family doctor.
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geoffoto Jan 29, 2021
Thank you for your reply! Everyone who replied agrees with you. Yes, we do have our Will, POA and Advanced Directive in place. Your last suggestion may be our next step. Thanks again.
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It is not safe for your wife to be driving a car.
She has been diagnosed with cognitive impairment. She also has dementia if she doesn't remember having traveled on vacations with you and you have repeat things three and four times to her.
She also has epilepsy.
Yet, you're asking if it's safe for her to drive? It's as safe as giving a toddler a gas can and a book of matches.
She cannot be allowed to drive anymore. Letting her drive (even if you're in the car) is risking her safety as well as your own.
You are also risking the safety of every other person and pedestrian on the road.
Humoring your wife by enabling her fantasy of believing she's still completely independent and capable of driving is selfish and dangerous. Your wife's happiness is not worth other people's safety and lives.
You can do the driving if you're still able. Use Ubers. Get her a companion who will take her out and help her run errands by doing the driving.
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geoffoto Jan 30, 2021
Thanks for your frankness. :-)
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I'll never forget the time my Dad and I were doing yard work along the road behind our property when a woman drove by and asked us for directions. It quickly became apparent that she was more than simply lost because she had difficulty remembering my directions, which were quite simple. I told her to take a left at the first stop sign, then a left at the next stop sign then a left at the second light. She drove off and took a left at the first driveway. She backed down the driveway and I ran over to her and said to her why don't you pull over and I will help you find your home and family. I called 911 and explained the situation. I learned that the police had been looking for her for two hours and her family was distraught. A police officer soon arrived and we kept her company until her daughter and SIL arrived.

Now, a couple of comments about this story.
1. She got lost is a very safe community on roads with extremely low traffic volumes. What if this was not the case? Who would she have encountered and how patient would other drivers have been?
2. I am a trained professional in memory care and recognized the cognitive decline and confusion before she drove up the neighbor's driveway. I offered to lead her to her destination, but she insisted she was fine and declined. Her pride interfered with her own safety and I was dumb to listen to her.
3. Her confusion on location prevented her from being a safe driver. How many times have we encountered a lost driver and had to make evasive moves because the lost driver so caught up in their location search made an unexpected stop or acceleration or turn. Now imagine a person with cognitive decline trying to figure out where in the world they are? The lady who came by our house had been a resident of the town for more than 50 years and she was miles off track.
4. I see regularly in the news stories about elderly family members missing. They left in their car and haven't been seen. Some stories have happy endings and some don't. I remember one particular story of a women's body and car being found two months later because she had driven off an embankment in a rural area nowhere near her home.
5. AAA and insurance companies offer and often require driving classes for our elderly community, and this includes drivers with perfect records. Study after study has shown that the older the person is, the slower the reaction time. A younger person is going to recognize a dangerous driving situation much more quickly and respond to the situation much more quickly than an elderly driver. Add in cognition challenges and the risk of an accident increases even more.
6. Giving up driving is perhaps the hardest decision our seniors have to make. It represents a true loss of independence and a serious reality check on their age and physical decline. Often our parents/spouses do not want to recognize this as it is a clear step towards mortality. Who can blame our seniors for not wanting to face this. Admitting my spouse is declining means admitting am declining. This is the juncture where pride brings about serious consequences to the community, not just our seniors.
7. By driving a car, a person with cognition challenges endangers everyone, including themselves, their passengers, the little boy down the road, the neighbor's dog and every other car on the road. How would your LO feel if he/she hit the little boy who lived down the road because they accelerator pedal was mistaken for the brake pedal when the ball came rolling across the street?

The kindest thing you can do for a LO with memory loss is to prevent him or her from driving. Please do not let you LO's pride rule the day. This is literally a safety issue. If there is any question about a person with memory loss driving, you know deep down that it is time to stop driving.
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NeedHelpWithMom Feb 2, 2021
Maddie,

The world would be a better place if there were more people like you in it!
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Would having that restriction in place again be as devastating as entering the path of a truck or overlooking a child on a bicycle? Nothing makes you so incompetent and distracted a driver as not knowing where you're going. Your wife has to make her own decision on this, but it seems to me that a bright lady with her heart in the right place should find this particular decision a no-brainer. No driving. Get ubers.

If I were your wife I think I'd be going back to my neurologist and asking for a review. Are you sure she has been completely open with you about what has been found to date?
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geoffoto Jan 29, 2021
Thank you for your candor. I got 13 replies, all with basically the same answer so that helps. As for your last question, I was with her when she was evaluated with MCI a couple of years ago so, yes, I'm in the loop.
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As you already know, no she is not safe to drive, and yes, there would be legal liability if she was in an accident whether she had a diagnosis of cognitive impairment or not. The choice to drive means the choice to take responsibility for any accidents that might happen.

Being familiar with the directions to a place or "it's just a short trip" are no excuse. You can kill someone backing out of your driveway just as easily as you can kill someone driving at 70 mph on the highway. My mother, who had macular degeneration, didn't have a problem with driving the two blocks from home to her church where she worked, but there were also two schools between her and her destination. There was no way we were going to allow that, and fortunately, she gave up driving without too much fuss.

Please appeal to your wife's sense of right and wrong in getting her to give up driving. Life brings us changes all along the way, and some are no fun, but we plug on doing what we can. This is just another change to adapt to, not the end of the world.
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geoffoto Jan 30, 2021
Thanks so much for your perspective. I had a talk with her last night. Step one.
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For many reasons, this is a call that the doctor who diagnosed her MCI should make (and should have made when the diagnosis was given).

If she has to confirm which way to turn at each intersection, is there any question in your mind? How would she react in a sudden emergency?
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