Caring for a parent with neuropathy: When's it time to not drive?

Posted by tlsonksen @tlsonksen, Jun 23, 2019

I have a 77 year old father who has type 2 diabetes and suffers from neuropathy in his feet and hands. He and my mother still live at home and he continues to drive, mow the yard and walks for minimal exercise. He had open heart surgery in Jan and is doing well, but my concern is when do you feel it is time to suggest he retire from driving due to not being able to feel anything from mid calf down? I have noticed recently he doesn’t have good balance, and he can only stand for minimal time before needing to lean on something or sit down. They also like to camp and haul a large 5th wheel camper, so that is a concern for a number of reasons. I am wondering if anyone out there has had to make a decision as to when is a good time to suggest he not be driving anymore do to being a hazard to others on the road. I also don’t want to take away this freedom. Anyone else with any suggestions would be appreciated. thank you —

Hello @tlsonksen, Welcome to Connect. Thanks for sharing your post. I have to tell you that your father sounds a little like myself. I have small fiber neuropathy but only have numbness in my lower legs and feet. Even though the feet are numb I can still feel the pedals and pressure. I'm 76 and also have some balance issues. I work on the leg strength using an elliptical recumbent bike and I also do a few balance exercises. I find it hard to stand for very long or walk for a long distance unless I'm pushing a shopping cart ☺

Your question is a good one and one that needs to be considered at some time. One of my biggest fears with my neuropathy was no longer being able to drive so I continue to do everything in my power to be able to continue to drive. Here's some information that you might find helpful.

What to Do When It’s Time for Your Parents to Stop Driving
https://www.senioradvisor.com/blog/2017/12/what-to-do-when-its-time-for-your-parents-to-stop-driving/

Have you thought about seeing if your father is open to physical therapy or exercises to help with balance? Maybe there are things he might be able to do to help himself with your concerns without causing you more worry.

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@johnbishop

Hello @tlsonksen, Welcome to Connect. Thanks for sharing your post. I have to tell you that your father sounds a little like myself. I have small fiber neuropathy but only have numbness in my lower legs and feet. Even though the feet are numb I can still feel the pedals and pressure. I'm 76 and also have some balance issues. I work on the leg strength using an elliptical recumbent bike and I also do a few balance exercises. I find it hard to stand for very long or walk for a long distance unless I'm pushing a shopping cart ☺

Your question is a good one and one that needs to be considered at some time. One of my biggest fears with my neuropathy was no longer being able to drive so I continue to do everything in my power to be able to continue to drive. Here's some information that you might find helpful.

What to Do When It’s Time for Your Parents to Stop Driving
https://www.senioradvisor.com/blog/2017/12/what-to-do-when-its-time-for-your-parents-to-stop-driving/

Have you thought about seeing if your father is open to physical therapy or exercises to help with balance? Maybe there are things he might be able to do to help himself with your concerns without causing you more worry.

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John – thanks for your reply. He does do some exercising at the health club, but I'm not sure what all he does in his routine. Thank you for the link I will check it out. Again thank you. I am asking for myself mostly to be prepared for what he needs to prepare for!!

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I have had PN for over 20 years, have numbness in feet and somewhat in calves — I continue to drive — I still have good flexion in my ankles (very important) — I know by the pressure on the brakes and accelerator as to how to drive — last year I drove all the way to Tucson and back (from Minneapolis) without incident — my husband was the navigator — I too, can't stand very long and have some balance issues — but that doesn't matter once you are behind the wheel — be a passenger with him and monitor his driving skills — check for other cognitive issues — hope that helps

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Hi, @tlsonksen – I wanted to add my welcome to Mayo Clinic Connect. I thought that you might also like to hear from others who've mentioned numbness or other symptoms with neuropathy. They may have input about your dad's situation with this and when would be a good time to suggest he not drive anymore to not be a hazard to others, like @gojuman @artscaping @elained @dckuke.

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@tlsonksen, @lisalucier, @johnbishop. Good afternoon…this is Chris and I am also 77 with small fiber neuropathy (SFN) and concern for being able to drive with numb feet. Giving up our vehicles is a really big decision because they signify our independence and control of our own lives. When my feet and ankles became numb, I was afraid that if I didn't stop driving, I might injure someone else. I researched and found two options. First I became a recipient of Myofascial Release Therapy (MFR). With regular treatments, I began to be able to even feel the carpet under my feet for the first time in a couple of years.

At about the same time I also started doing daily exercises for my ankles, to make them stronger. It is a simple restorative yoga pose called legs up the wall. With my legs resting on the wall, I do 12 point and flex movements and then 12 turn your ankle movements….6 in each direction. You don't have to be in this pose to strengthen your ankles but it helps to give the blood in our veins a chance to do their thing without the force of gravity. It also opens all the little valves that we must require the blood in our veins to pass through on the way for more oxygenated blood.
I have attached a visual for you.

With my own mother, this was a major issue for her and she fought to keep driving. I decided to take a ride with her and found that if other drivers weren't looking out for themselves she would surely have an accident. At one point she went into the median to pass a car. She was always a sort of "I'll do it my own self" gal.

I enlisted the help of one of the residents at the senior living center who always helped with her car maintenance and had her trust. Unfortunately or maybe thank goodness, he decided to tell her that her car was leaking oil and that if she gave him the keys, he would get it fixed. The keys were never given back and she pouted a bit. Then she discovered the senior bus and was happy not to be burdened with driving or owning a vehicle. Only problem…..she never spoke to that nice man again.

Aging has the ability to force us to give up quite a bit as our bodies wear out and we can no longer participate in the activities of our youth. I hope I will be cognizant of the risk involved when it comes time for me to turn in the keys. Have some happiness today. Chris

legs up the wall

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Hello @tlsonksen My wife had a different health issue (brain cancer) and driving became an issue for us with her.

She insisted she could drive just fine, but we disagreed. We had to take control of the situation from her. Often times the impaired individual refuses to admit their shortcomings because they don’t want anything to change.

With my wife, we arranged for her doctor to give her a driving/reaction test in a driving simulator. It was at Mayo in Minnesota. While she managed, she fell short of being a safe driver so the doctor made the call that she needed to quit driving. He convinced her it would be tragic if she injured herself, a loved one, or a stranger.

Perhaps not for everyone, but in my wife’s case it provided factually based evidence thst she needed to quit driving no matter how much she wanted to continue.

Wishing you the best!

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I've had to deal with this situation twice. The first was my father. It was a pretty easy transition he fell and had a brain bleed and had Dr. orders he couldn't drive for six months and never really showed much interest after that. My husband was a bit harder. He drove for a living and was always comfortable behind the wheel until the Parkinson disease started causing more problems. He had 2 minor accidents in a 2 week period and that ended it. Before that we talked about his declining abilities and the possibility of hurting someone like our grandchildren or someone else's. Until the accidents he would be defensive about his abilities. It was hard for him at first but he seems content now for me to do all of the driving. Which I'm not really thrilled about but it's our reality.

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@lois6524

I have had PN for over 20 years, have numbness in feet and somewhat in calves — I continue to drive — I still have good flexion in my ankles (very important) — I know by the pressure on the brakes and accelerator as to how to drive — last year I drove all the way to Tucson and back (from Minneapolis) without incident — my husband was the navigator — I too, can't stand very long and have some balance issues — but that doesn't matter once you are behind the wheel — be a passenger with him and monitor his driving skills — check for other cognitive issues — hope that helps

Jump to this post

thank you for the reply. All the info helps!

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@artscaping

@tlsonksen, @lisalucier, @johnbishop. Good afternoon…this is Chris and I am also 77 with small fiber neuropathy (SFN) and concern for being able to drive with numb feet. Giving up our vehicles is a really big decision because they signify our independence and control of our own lives. When my feet and ankles became numb, I was afraid that if I didn't stop driving, I might injure someone else. I researched and found two options. First I became a recipient of Myofascial Release Therapy (MFR). With regular treatments, I began to be able to even feel the carpet under my feet for the first time in a couple of years.

At about the same time I also started doing daily exercises for my ankles, to make them stronger. It is a simple restorative yoga pose called legs up the wall. With my legs resting on the wall, I do 12 point and flex movements and then 12 turn your ankle movements….6 in each direction. You don't have to be in this pose to strengthen your ankles but it helps to give the blood in our veins a chance to do their thing without the force of gravity. It also opens all the little valves that we must require the blood in our veins to pass through on the way for more oxygenated blood.
I have attached a visual for you.

With my own mother, this was a major issue for her and she fought to keep driving. I decided to take a ride with her and found that if other drivers weren't looking out for themselves she would surely have an accident. At one point she went into the median to pass a car. She was always a sort of "I'll do it my own self" gal.

I enlisted the help of one of the residents at the senior living center who always helped with her car maintenance and had her trust. Unfortunately or maybe thank goodness, he decided to tell her that her car was leaking oil and that if she gave him the keys, he would get it fixed. The keys were never given back and she pouted a bit. Then she discovered the senior bus and was happy not to be burdened with driving or owning a vehicle. Only problem…..she never spoke to that nice man again.

Aging has the ability to force us to give up quite a bit as our bodies wear out and we can no longer participate in the activities of our youth. I hope I will be cognizant of the risk involved when it comes time for me to turn in the keys. Have some happiness today. Chris

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thanks for your reply. You brought up a lot of great ideas and suggestions. Again – thank you

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I had been really concerned about how we were going to get my husband to quit driving. For several years, his driving had been limited to close to home, and I drove if we were going any distance or where he was unfamiliar with the roads. But he took great pride in driving, and after being a truck driver for many years, it was hard for him to realize he could no longer do that. We had an appointment with a psychiatrist during the Alzheimer's diagnosis process and when I mentioned he had had several blackout times during the past year, she took me aside and said he really shouldn't be driving as they might happen while he was driving. I told her to tell him and he accepted that. Never drove again. He would brag that he still had his drivers license but never tried to get behind the wheel, and when it expired, he was agreeable to get a legal ID. You might try that.

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As one who has actually gone through it myself I can say that those who suggest having a medical professional diagnose is the best way to reach the person who has problems with driving. I had a doctor who said I needed to stop driving and she sent me to an occupational therapist who also told me to stop driving. Those with neuropathy have slowed reaction times. A test for reaction times can show that. Also as John Bishop stated, it is wether or not the person can feel the brake. I could not so I was not able to tell how hard to push the brake.
If it is merely a problem of feeling the pedals, there are electronic controls and cheaper hand controls that will let a person use their hands. If you still have problems with response time then you do need to consider other options for transportation. As mentioned, there are senior buses. There is also paratransit in some areas. When I stopped driving about five years ago I went to paratransit. It is a big change though.

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