Welcome to Episode 30 of our podcast, where we delve into an important and sometimes uncomfortable topic for many caregivers – driving and retiring from driving. I'm Diane Carbo, and today, I'm joined by our special guest, Betsy Wurzel, a dementia care specialist and host of the podcast "Chatting with Betsy." Together, we'll discuss the challenges of driving and retiring for aging individuals, especially those with dementia. Betsy's experience with her loved ones brings valuable insights to this crucial conversation
Diane Carbo: Hi, this is Diane Carbo and I’m with caregiver relief. Today we have Betsy Wardell. That’s the, is a podcast host herself with chatting with Betsy. She started the Facebook group kicked all the Hymers ass and Betsy is our dementia care specialist. Today we’re going to talk about driving and retiring from driving.
Diane Carbo: So Betsy, I’m so excited to have you with me today. This is an awesome topic. One that is a very common and uncomfortable topic for many caregivers.
Betsy Wurzel: Hi, Diane, thank you for having me. Yes. People may not like what I have to say about driving for those who have dementia, but Diane, I’m a Jersey girl and I say it like it is.
Betsy Wurzel: And I’ll tell about my experience with Nat. I know everyone is different Matt driving with immediately affected I didn’t realize he was driving between two lanes. He gained the light to didn’t see stop signs. People it’s a miracle. I have to say, as God was watching me that he did not hurt himself or anyone else.
Betsy Wurzel: I could not drive in the car with him anymore. I said to our son, Josh, and in your own words, What my mistake was, Diane was, I should have told the doctor, the neurologist to tell Matt, he couldn’t drive. I told the pastor to have a talk with Matt and lot of people with dementia, they don’t realize that their perception is it.
Betsy Wurzel: Yes. And this is where family members? No, I didn’t even bring up the lunch here. We have to have them stop driving because I’m going to say that the judge will throw the book at you. Your loved one will go to jail or a mental hospital. You’re going to lose everything. Is it worth it?
Diane Carbo: Those that are listening to this that have a family member that does not have dementia.
Diane Carbo: I can tell you, denial is a very strong coping mechanism and the fear of loss of independence is so great in some many people , especially the aging seniors, that they are not willing to give up driving. And the signs are there that they’re unsafe drivers and the family caregiver, or the family members are so hesitant to have that discussion, because I don’t know if you’re afraid of that.
Diane Carbo: , it’s going to cause anxiety and angst amongst the family, because it is, let’s be real about this. It’s going to, and it’s going to cause a total disruption in everybody’s life. That’s true too, but there are things that you can do to overcome that. But I think first it is, as you say, we absolutely as caregivers and family members of an aging senior have to take personal responsibility because it’s not just the safety of your senior, that’s involved.
Diane Carbo: It’s the safety of an innocent victim out there.
Betsy Wurzel: Absolutely. Diane and I told him that. I said, listen, I could not live with myself as God forbid, you hurt somebody. Josh needs at least one parent. I can’t be locked away somewhere. And, because he wouldn’t remember what he did.
Betsy Wurzel: I would bring him. I could not deal with that. What happened the, with the last straw with that was he backed the car into the driveway up the very narrow driveway. And I was at work. I called, I always called to see how he was doing. He goes, I have a little scratch on the car. I troubled backing in the car.
Betsy Wurzel: And I said, okay, I go home a little scratch. I wish she was just a little scratch the whole side of the car. Was scratched. And you need to realize it. And he was really close to the cement part of the driveway. And I said, Matt, why didn’t you just shut the car off and hop over the consult? I would have sucked the car.
Betsy Wurzel: Oh, I didn’t think of that. . I said do you think you should be driving then because I’m taking away your keys? He, I took his keys away and that’s car was leased. I had to break the lease. I paid a hefty fine. They didn’t care that he had old timers. I should have really I regret. And I’m going to tell everyone that’s learned from my experience, make the doctor the enemy, but get them off the road.
Betsy Wurzel: And my dad was a salesman, so he drove his whole life and he was in his eighties. My mom took the keys away, but the doctor, his neurologist said power. You can cry. And he was mad. Father was mad. He didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. a lot of times they don’t and we, of course we don’t want to cause conflict in the family, but you have to, sometimes you have to be the bad one.
Betsy Wurzel: And take it on the chin.
Diane Carbo: I will also recommend that you can make the state your enemy because a family member can call the department of transportation and report their family member, their senior family member as an unsafe driver, and ask them to send a letter out to retest them for safety. So there are other steps you can take to make another person the enemy and they will do it so that it doesn’t come back, that they were reported by their own family .
Betsy Wurzel: That’s a great suggestion. Thanks for bringing that up. Yes.
Diane Carbo: The other thing I’m going to suggest that you can do is sometimes, and this is a big one for us. Seniors is they want to save money. The organizations like AA or pan American automobile association have , these driving courses that they do for seniors and they get a discount if they take these courses.
Diane Carbo: So a lot of times it’s really important to get them to. Take the course so that they can realize what their deficits are, because sometimes you have to be hit in the head, smack in the head with, Hey, you’re not a safe driver.
Betsy Wurzel: Yes. And I know that this might offend some people who have dementia, but I really am not comfortable.
Betsy Wurzel: With someone driving that has dementia, they don’t realize their perception is off. Their reflexes are not the same. I really think that, a lot of times the person with dementia is in denial. And then at that offend somebody, I can’t even apologize for it because I won’t apologize. And I won’t back down.
Betsy Wurzel: There are certain people that should not be driving period. It really makes me nervous when I hear, oh, I have dementia or my husband or wife has dementia, but I let them drive. It’s okay. No, I don’t think
Diane Carbo: it’s not okay. And people don’t understand that medications can also affect driving.
Diane Carbo: Yeah,
Diane Carbo: you are my you are my soul sister. I, you absolutely are. We’re so much alike in so many ways, medications have a negative impact on driving and I think it’s important. Seniors and their family members go over medications to see if there’s something that is going to effect them, not just their mental status, but their physical ability to drive.
Diane Carbo: I know I’m a person who has chronic pain. My years of nursing have just destroyed my body. I used to literally, I tell people, I picked up men for living. Then we giggle about it, but I did physical rehab nursing. I , I did fireman lifts on patients.
Diane Carbo: I took care of people. That were quadriplegic strokes. And I did a lot of heavy lifting. My body is just destroyed. . I go to pain management and I have procedures done to allow me to get full extension of my neck and stuff. But there are times when I know for me personally, I worry when I’m driving and I’m 68, I’m going to be honest.
Diane Carbo: I’m 68 years old that just that I struggle sometimes. And I think, ah, I know I’m getting there where I’m going to have to retire from driving just for physical. And of course I know with me is there really is in my fifties, I started not liking driving at night.
Betsy Wurzel: Oh yes. I hate driving. Absolutely.
Diane Carbo: And that started in my fifties. I didn’t like being out and I’m okay to drive in areas that are well lit, but know when you’re in areas that are very dark. It’s dangerous . It’s very uncomfortable for me. So I avoid driving at night and that’s important. Number is the one that’s responsible, , I actually have a communication course and one of the sections is on having that driving safety and retiring from.
Diane Carbo: Conversation because , it’s a very difficult thing for family members to approach and they get in a panic and avoid the topic until sometimes a crisis occurs. And the crisis can not only be that it’s taken somebody’s life, and if it doesn’t take somebody’s life, it can cause severe financial harm to the whole family as well.
Betsy Wurzel: Yes. And there’s times when my mom, she said to me, oh, your dad got lost. He forgot how to go somewhere. He went know in the wrong direction. I said, you don’t think that’s a problem. That’s a problem. That’s the keys away from him. He’ll be mad. Who cares? You need to take his keys away. And Matt was furious with me, Matt, didn’t talk to me for four days.
Betsy Wurzel: When I said I took his keys away and it broke my heart when they took the car away. I couldn’t afford to keep two cars and it is sad for the individual because it is a loss of independence. It’s another skill that they lost. There’s no question. It is sad. And, is this frustrating for them, you can’t have someone try.
Betsy Wurzel: Who is not fully a hundred percent capable. I know I’m 63. I’ve always had trouble driving at night. I’m severely nearsighted. My doctor says severely near-sighted people do have trouble driving at night and just talked about medication and pain, Diane. I suffer from migraines. And sometimes when I get my ocular migraine, I can’t see, I feel like I’m bond.
Betsy Wurzel: Like I can’t see straight and I don’t like driving. I drive maybe three miles and I don’t even like that. I’m not a driver, never liked driving. You just have to know when to give it up. There are those with dementia who don’t know when to give it up. There’s even seniors without dementia, who don’t know when to give it up to two, maybe they have an eye problem or their reflexes.
Betsy Wurzel: You just get slower. That’s a fact.
Diane Carbo: It, and the other thing is hearing makes it harder to notice horns, sirens or even noise is coming from your own car. One of the things that I have an issue with is so many seniors. Don’t care if they don’t hear or they go out.
Diane Carbo: And I know this for a fact because I’ve seen it so many times, the senior that goes out and gets the hearing aids and doesn’t wear them because it makes them appear like they’re old.
Diane Carbo: Yes it is it’s vanity. I can’t tell you how many times vanity has gotten in the way of healthy aging. It’s very sad. But the other thing people need to do is when they’re having hearing problems, they need to keep the inside of the car, very quiet. A lot of them want to play the music or have a conversation with somebody and it’s just not possible.
Diane Carbo: And with dementia, it even takes it to another level.
Betsy Wurzel: Yes, I’m even concerned. My mom is 91 and she’s still driving. Not far, but I’m concerned about her driving. She’s had some issues lately. They just don’t want to give up that last straw. I call it of independence and I understand that.
Betsy Wurzel: And people have to realize also Diane, you can’t reason sometimes with someone who has dementia, they don’t have the reasoning capability. Yeah. They just don’t have it. And you could try it depending on, every end of the individual is different, Matt did not realize he was driving , in between two lanes.
Betsy Wurzel: They even took the forklift is to drive a forklift at work. They took that away from him. I wish they would’ve told me, but they took that away from him because they couldn’t trust them to be safe. So that was a forklift. So what does that tell you? Nobody wants to be the bad person, but sometimes you really do have to have that conversation.
Betsy Wurzel: Nobody likes to have that conversation. These are conversations Diana, you and I know are very important to have a long time. Placement, which is a topic for another show, and but preparing you know, yourself for a longterm care or, your wishes end of life. These are important conversations that have to occur
Diane Carbo: the most important goals.
Diane Carbo: Is safety first.
Betsy Wurzel: Absolutely.
Diane Carbo: I think that people, even in the early stages of dementia or ones who, people that have a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment need to understand that safety. Is important. While you may still be able to drive safely in certain conditions, family members and the person with the dementia or the mild cognitive impairment must realize that decision-making skills worsen and memory worsens, and they need to be aware that they may not even be able to react quickly when faced with the supplies.
Diane Carbo: Somebody could get hurt or killed. So it, the person’s reaction time or ability to focus flows. You just got to keep him stopping for driving. I think people need to, family members have to decide early on to address the issue, have the conversation and have it an ongoing conversation.
Betsy Wurzel: Absolutely. I agree. A hundred percent. I also want to bring up Diane, when someone with dementia, they’re driving and there’s a detour, but they know what to do. I was getting lost. I know I had no sense of direction myself. Don’t have to call my son if I’m lost. Not, I don’t have dementia. I just have never had a sense of direction.
Betsy Wurzel: So there’s a detour. I know, I get confused and forget it if it said night, but would they know what to do? Would they know what to do? If a police officer has their siren and pulls them over you hear about people getting lost and being, hundreds of miles away from home. This is dangerous.
Betsy Wurzel: This is really dangerous. My father-in-law. I didn’t realize this when my father-in-law had it, but my father in law had alcohol-related dementia and he was driving the wrong way down. The street was stopped by a police officer. I said to my mother-in-law well, do you think dad should be drunk? He needs to stop, but I didn’t realize it was dementia at that time.
Betsy Wurzel: That was, this was the early eighties. And then I didn’t know anything comes out dementia. It’s really dangerous. Another thing to consider Diane is sometimes a person with dementia might I fight they’re on drugs. And they’re not exactly. So it’s, it’s tough and I really want to recommend for people here in where I live, we have a safe and sound program courageously with the police department.
Betsy Wurzel: Get your luggage one register with the police department, if it’s available in your area or at suggest it because they go into a database and that they’re pulled over or they’re lost the information is there, the police officers will know that they have a mental disability or they have dementia or whatever, I highly recommend that.
Diane Carbo: That’s a good point. I think that family members don’t think of those things. And I think that, especially with the person for dementia, the safe and sound program is available in a lot of areas right now. I know we have one here in Myrtle beach and it’s important because.
Diane Carbo: People do get lost. They do get forgetful and family members wait way too long sometimes to address the issues and they do crisis management. Sometimes there’s a tragic result because of that lack of being proactive and addressing the issues early on.
Betsy Wurzel: Exactly right, Diane. I had talked with my mom and I told her, talk to the doctor.
Betsy Wurzel: It’s okay. Dad gets mad. It’s all right. It’s better for dad to get mad. Then someone to end up dead or injured for the rest of their life. And, we think, oh, that won’t happen to us. I’ll know it won’t happen. Yes, it can happen. And it does happen. And that could be, as you said before, financial crisis, when they take everything away from you and just to, pretend, go ask the audience, this.
Betsy Wurzel: Ask yourself, can you live with yourself? How are you going to deal with that? If your loved one gets in the car and God forbid injure someone or kill someone, how are you going to deal with that? Then they then do have to have these discussions. Just think about that. How are you going to deal with that?
Betsy Wurzel: Because that really got me to, lay the Lord.
Diane Carbo: One of the things I’m going to bring up is that you can call your family members, doctor and ask them to have the American occupational therapy association has driving specialists and ask the doctor to. Recommend that your family member be tested for their driving skills.
Diane Carbo: Again, if it’s a way to get around when these family members are being hesitant . To have the discussion. The caregivers are in denial themselves sometimes, or the family members are in denial. Say, Hey, call the doctor and say, would you recommend when you see mom or dad, the next time someone who can test their driving skills so that we.
Diane Carbo: No what’s going on with them. That is a way to open up the conversation as well is if the doctor recommends it versus you. Of course there may be, fees associated with this type of assessment, but it’s worth it to pay ahead versus being traumatized by a death or an accident that causes.
Diane Carbo: Terrible financial and medical issues for the family or another innocent victim as well.
Betsy Wurzel: Yes. Yes. That’s a great idea. Thanks for bringing that up. Now that you mentioned that my son was evaluated for driving, my son has cognitive disabilities and that was in the local hospital. I don’t remember if I paid out of pocket, but I may not have, because Josh is on Medicare.
Betsy Wurzel: Medicaid said, that might’ve been covered just to assess if he could really, drive. But he knows himself that he couldn’t. The therapist said that, possible that he could, but he would really have to work on it, but he couldn’t do it. And he couldn’t pass the written test.
Betsy Wurzel: You really have to take in the situation and, we don’t want to put people on the guilt trip, Diane, but no we’re telling the truth. We’re trying to prevent tragedies and trying to present the reality of what can happen of we don’t face reality denial It doesn’t get you anywhere.
Betsy Wurzel: You really have to get your head out of the sand and see the situation, even though you don’t want to. Of course, we don’t want to, we don’t want to realize that our loved ones are having a difficulty in driving or daily living skills, a folks with your loved one has dementia. It’s going to happen.
Betsy Wurzel: They lose their skills. This is reality. They don’t get better. They deteriorate. Until they die. Now that might sound harsh, but you know what? I’ve lived it, I’ve seen it up close. And I know what I’m talking about. So take my word for it. Debt out of denial. I know it’s hard, but I really get counseling.
Betsy Wurzel: Really. If you have trouble with denial dealing with reality. Then you need to get counseling.
Diane Carbo: That’s young. Let us take that one step further and recommend get your butt in the car with your family member when they’re driving and do it often, nothing is more frightening than when you’re in the passenger seat and your aging senior is having problems with driving.
Diane Carbo: Okay. That is a great way to bring up the topics with your aging senior that doesn’t need to be driving anymore. As I say, I feel unsafe. I’m can’t let my kids with you. I can’t be in the car with you. You have to come from that perspective, but family members often are unsure or afraid again.
Diane Carbo: And they’re hesitant, but I can tell you right now, But we’ve given you many options to be somebody else to be the bad guy. But I suggest that if you have a family member who is in really strong denial you need to get in the car and be honest and open with them about how unsafe you feel and that how.
Diane Carbo: If they won’t, you can hide the car keys or you can move the car. Take out the distributor cap, disconnect the battery. There are options that you can do , that will make me short term solutions. But if you have somebody who is adamant about driving, you just maybe have to get rid of the day gone car.
Betsy Wurzel: That’s right. Absolutely. And yes, it is hurtful and they pull that car away. I cried. I did, I cried. It was a grease. It was, I was grieving the loss of Mac driving and yes, it is painful, but it is something that you have to say. I was not. I did not feel safe with Matt driving. I didn’t feel safe in the car.
Betsy Wurzel: And she used to go to the car with him. I wouldn’t do it. Yeah.
Diane Carbo: I think that when a family members come to the realization that the driving has to stop and the car has gone while they’re approaching this with a family member, they need to have alternatives to finding other transportation options. The fear of loss of independence is a big one.
Diane Carbo: Well, spirit of isolation by the senior, his family member is a big one. The fear of losing the ability to have spontaneous and going out and doing things without having to make arrangements and stuff is a big one. And I know for me personally, I hate to depend on anybody for anything.
Diane Carbo: It’s so many seniors are like that, and it’s very hard and it’s a personal growth experience. I feel because I’ve been a caregiver my whole life that I don’t want to interfere in somebody else’s life and feel like they have to take care of me. So it is a hard thing. I understand where seniors are coming from.
Diane Carbo: So I think family members have to. Develop a system and getting in place
Betsy Wurzel: before they
Diane Carbo: take those keys away the proactive in their approach to this subject, Other alternatives to transportation. I know one of my caregivers that does a podcast with me regularly, she actually has, her father has a very slow form of dementia, and hasn’t been able to drive.
Diane Carbo: She’s been caregiving for 14 years. And for seven of those have been with her dad and he is still able to go out. He has friends that pick him up and take him to his meetings a couple times a week. That, he’s still able to get out, but she put a plan in place because she can’t drive. She was in a car accident during her time as a caregiver.
Diane Carbo: And has a head injury, has lost an eye over it and is now unable to drive. So she struggles with many things, but she has things in place. She has groceries delivered. She has medications delivered. She has a system of people in place that will take her dad places . She’s got local transportation.
Diane Carbo: Now they’re in Connecticut and they’re in an area that’s a little rural. So she’s a little more challenged as far as transportation availability, but she works at it and that’s something. You have to do as a caregiver, when you realized that the person is their life’s going to change and they still have things.
Diane Carbo: I think this is a time to where you have to reach out and call the your church. If you belong to a church and get a pool of people that are willing to volunteer to take
Betsy Wurzel: you places. Yes, that’s a good idea.
Diane Carbo: There’s also the office of aging often has a list of volunteers who are willing to pick people up, take them to their appointments, or take them out to social events.
Diane Carbo: But you have to do the research. And you have to do reach out and ask. So I think that’s an important thing that family members can do. There are options out there that can help families and aging, seniors that are retiring from driving to still have a social life, to still have some independence and be in control of their life.
Diane Carbo: It’s just that you have. It just takes more planning.
Betsy Wurzel: Yes. And I think a lot of caregivers don’t want to do that. Diane, they don’t want to do the research. And if someone, doesn’t want to do that and you could afford it and pay someone to do it. Get a nurse manager, get someone who is a caregiver
Diane Carbo: coaches.
Diane Carbo: Yes. We’re caregiver coaches, get us, call us, get us involved so that we can support you and give you the guidance and help you. It’s the best thing. It’s an option out there. If you can’t afford it, you need to do it. Otherwise managing by crisis mode takes away choices, it takes away options and it causes undue stress and anxiety at a time when you don’t need it.
Betsy Wurzel: Absolutely. And a crisis, Diane as well as I do not just with the driving, but placement hospice. This is, really these things need to be planned and I speak from. Experience. So that’s why I like to share my experience so that others don’t make the same mistakes that I made, because I wish I had someone like you, Diane to help me.
Betsy Wurzel: I wish I knew about you. I wish I knew I, a lot of resources. This is why it’s wonderful that there’s people like you and me and others that, we’re a resource for people that help people to guide people.
Diane Carbo: We are the seasoned caregivers. I want family caregivers to understand that 90% of unpaid home health workers are the family caregivers.
Diane Carbo: They are unprepared and uneducated as far as health care concerns. I call us the seasoned family caregivers. Right now, the family caregivers of someone caring for someone with dementia are becoming experts because of what they have to deal with.
Diane Carbo: Not the healthcare providers, they are educating the healthcare providers on what is needed. Because they’re on the front lines, so to speak and they’re being forced to provide care in a way that usually in the past, came from professional healthcare providers, such as myself, so we are out there.
Diane Carbo: We are the pioneers trying to make caregivers aware of we’re here for you. We know your challenges, we understand them, and we’re here to support you. Take advantage of our knowledge.
Betsy Wurzel: Yes. I feel like a veteran that has gone through a war and I want to help what I call the newbies. And so as I’m a lifeline, which I wish somebody would have thrown to me.
Diane Carbo: I understand that. Totally. And that’s the, I hope that we’re successful in helping many out there. I’m going to end today with my usual spiel to my family caregivers out there. Remember you are the most important part of the caregiving equation without you. It all falls apart. So learn to be gentle with yourself.
Diane Carbo: Practice. Care every day because you’re worth it Betsy until next time. I thank you so much again for sharing your experience, your knowledge and your information. And I love your selfless act of providing this information to others.
Betsy Wurzel: You’re welcome. And thank you for having me, Diane. I always enjoy talking to you.
Diane Carbo: I always enjoy talking to you Betsy as well. Thank you.
As we conclude this thought-provoking episode, let's remember that safety should always come first. The decision to retire from driving can be challenging for both the caregiver and the aging individual. However, it's essential to face reality, plan ahead, and explore alternative transportation options to maintain independence and social engagement while prioritizing safety. Family caregivers are the true heroes in this journey, and seeking guidance and support from caregiver coaches like Betsy and resources like ours can make a world of difference. Remember, you are not alone, and together, we can navigate this road with care and compassion. Thank you for tuning in, and until next time, take care.
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