Driving, Early Dementia and Stroke

Posted by fiesty76 @fiesty76, Nov 5, 2020

A previous excellent discussion on Accepting Change As You Age and driving safely, prompted me to start this new thread in hopes that it might reach more members. My dad’s career involved driving throughout the state as a divisional director. He retired at 70 yrs and enjoyed having a daily coffee time with friends in our very small town. My mom had noticed that he was getting more forgetful about some things…misplacing items, difficulty remembering some current events but nothing alarming. She usually found him working in the yard when she came home from school but one day he wasn’t home and when it got dark and he still hadn’t showed up, she called me very concerned.

In the late 70’s, we didn’t have cell phones or state networks for missing person alerts that we have now. The three hour drive was nerve wracking but we tried to stay optimistic that he would be home when we arrived. The next three days and nights were beyond description. Local and county law enforcement were alerted and a friend arranged for a helicopter search for his vehicle to no avail. On the fourth day, we got a call that he had been found on a ranch at a cattle tank 275 miles away. He was trying to fish using a coat hanger and had suffered a major stroke.

Until that fateful day my dad had had no problem while driving to and fro locally. My mom had not noticed any changes in his driving on trips nor had he become confused about where he was. We think that he may have had a TMI, became confused and made it to the cattle tank before suffering the major stroke.

The two sites @colleenyoung posted on this thread are well worth the read and plan. My daughter lives out-of-state and we have had the “driving discussion” and she phones me almost daily. I hope others will have this discussion and also be increasingly watchful if a family member or loved one begins showing signs of lessening mental acuity or changes in driving ability.

As an older, single adult, living independently, only a dire night emergency would put me in the driver’s seat of my car now. Neither my vision nor my reflexes are what they once were. The thought of having to stop driving altogether would be one of the most significant an older person may face. However, the safety and well being of all will make that decision well worth it if it saves lives.

This is a tough topic and one no one wants to consider but for those of us who are aging it is, like making estate and final arrangement plans, well worth the consideration while we are still able.

Interested in more discussions like this? Go to the Aging Well Support Group.

@fwentz

I'm so glad you drew our attention to driver safety. Early in my wife's journey with Alzheimer's Disease, when she had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, she was driving us home and couldn't remember how to get there when she was only a mile away from our home of 45 years. Another time her mother was visiting us and wanted to do an errand so we gave her the keys to our car. About a half hour later she phoned us and said she was lost. She told me about some things she could see nearby so we were able to find her and help her get back safely.

Now, at age 81, I am very focused on my own driver safety. I'm aware of many of my own changes in vision, hearing, reflexes, and attention. For decades I have made good use of the AARP safe driving courses. I retake the course about every 3 years and learn something new to focus on every time. Then I find myself reminding myself as I'm driving "You are too close to the car ahead, back away." "Slow down, you're reflexes aren't as good as they used to be." "Be careful pulling into the intersection. The most frequent cause of accidents by older drivers is when they fail to yield the right-of-way. You might misjudge how fast the oncoming traffic is going." Etc.

I don't drive at night unless absolutely necessary. I limit my driving during the day to times when traffic volume is low. I really focus on paying attention when I'm driving, acting like I'm taking a driver's test with an examiner in the passenger seat. I'm starting to use Uber more often.

I highly recommend the AARP or other safe driving courses. Here's a website to check out. That reminds me, it's time for me to sign up again!
https://www.aarpdriversafety.org/why-take-our-course.html

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Thanks for your response, @fwentz and for calling attention to the AARP safe driving course. I like to schedule my appts during the slower traffic times throughout the day as well.

Also good to hear that you were able to find your loved one and help her home safely.

Another neighbor was able to use/ install? a GPS and connect it someway to her Apple watch (I think) to track her husband who refuses to stop driving but has called home "lost" a few times. I don't know about the technology involved so may be not relating this accurately.

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@fourof5zs

When my mom was around 64-65 years old she was driving home from a shopping trip with six of her grandchildren. They lived out in the country and the town was 35 miles from her home. She made it about three quarters of the way home and had a sudden headache and her vision went whacky. She pulled over until whatever was happening went away. She said about 10-15 minutes. It was probably a TIA. She had some of these instances while at home. With her grandchildren in the van she just made up her mind to never drive again. As far as I know she never did. She passed away this August of a brain bleed from a major stroke at the age of 92. She had several mild strokes over the last 15 years. They became more frequent.. one in December of last year and one in June of this year. The one in June was a bit worse. I think she had several mini-strokes each month. Frequently complaining of sudden headaches and vision changes. Mild dementia had been with her since a mild stroke in 2016. She had hallucinations. Some of them were like nightmares and she was very scared..

Myself, at this age of 69 I have trouble finding words, remembering names, and where I put something. I drive, but not often. Just to my doctor appointments that my husband cannot come to. He has driven me a couple of times when I did not get enough sleep or had to take an antihistamine that does not play well with other medications I take… my mind gets muddled, dull in thoughts and reactions.

My husband is 70 years old. I notice he sometimes has little memory moments. I notice he doesn't ride car bumpers like he used to when he drives. He seems very aware of other drivers.. you have to be here. There is a law against texting and driving, but that stops no one here. I used to walk in my neighborhood.. there are no side walks. I have had cars almost hit me because they are wobbling from one side of the road to the other because the driver is texting. New apartments and a Neighborhood WalMart have increased traffic on our street.

We just need to take note of our abilities as we age.. pay attention to what others notice.

If you love to drive it is hard to give up. It is also hard when you cannot pay for taxis, or buses or do not have family or friends to take you. We try to have a game plan here. We do have gracious neighbors that will help us if needed.

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@fourof5zs, ZeeGee, I appreciate what you shared and admire your mom, while in her 60's, for recognizing that the time had come for her to stop driving!

At 77, I also have some of the same short term memory "hitches" of short term memory losses that you mention. However, I've not had any instances of confusion or fears of being lost while driving to appts. My shopping and appointments are all within a short distance from my home and I schedule my drives after the peak morning rush work and school times occur.

However, with much less driving now since the pandemic, I find myself being much more cautious now whenever I do drive. I need to follow you lead and give more thought to a game plan too because of few public transportation options in my area.

Thanks for your share.

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@gingerw

@merpreb My husband says "I drive like a grandma". I remind him I have never had a ticket, nor caused an accident, and have handled vehicles all the way up to 18-wheeler. I study the roads and note how curves are cambered and angled, and know how my vehicle will handle in different road conditions. Test drives for me usually leave the salesperson pretty shaken up. But when the time comes that I feel no confidence in my abilities to drive, I will give it up.
Ginger

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@gingerw, I've been accused of driving like a little old woman for years…long before grey hair or wrinkles! While I can't boast managing an 18 wheeler, I've never been ticketed either and I accuse some of those bedevilers of thinking they are trying out for the Indy 500. Having to stop driving would be a terrible personal blow for me and would leave me pretty stranded but like you, the dangers of risk, I truly hope, make the decision easier when that time comes.

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@fiesty76

@gingerw, I've been accused of driving like a little old woman for years…long before grey hair or wrinkles! While I can't boast managing an 18 wheeler, I've never been ticketed either and I accuse some of those bedevilers of thinking they are trying out for the Indy 500. Having to stop driving would be a terrible personal blow for me and would leave me pretty stranded but like you, the dangers of risk, I truly hope, make the decision easier when that time comes.

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@fiesty76 I'm just a year older and because of my M.D @glucoms I gave my car up but I do miss it While driving one day it scared me as zI almost drove into someone When younger I drove a 52 passenger bus couldn't do it now so glad I'm retired lol

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@fiesty76

@gingerw, I've been accused of driving like a little old woman for years…long before grey hair or wrinkles! While I can't boast managing an 18 wheeler, I've never been ticketed either and I accuse some of those bedevilers of thinking they are trying out for the Indy 500. Having to stop driving would be a terrible personal blow for me and would leave me pretty stranded but like you, the dangers of risk, I truly hope, make the decision easier when that time comes.

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@fiesty76 and everyone else reading this great thread. Another very important thing we all must remember is to be careful when it comes to being on medications or being sick/flu. These can dramatically change up our reaction times or perception. I saw it happen to someone I loved, who wasn't feeling well. Instead of calling a friend or relative to take him to dr, he drove. And wrapped himself around a light standard, dieing instantly. Fortunately no-one else was hurt.
Ginger

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@lioness

@fiesty76 I'm just a year older and because of my M.D @glucoms I gave my car up but I do miss it While driving one day it scared me as zI almost drove into someone When younger I drove a 52 passenger bus couldn't do it now so glad I'm retired lol

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@lioness, Impressive that you drove a 52 passenger bus. I admire those who drive multi-passenger vehicles because not only does the driver have to be very alert to changing street/highway conditions but also be aware of any distractions caused by the passengers. Good for you and those who can or have done that. I agree that one of the perks of retirement is that we have more flexibility in choosing what we will do and the best times for doing it.

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@gingerw

@fiesty76 and everyone else reading this great thread. Another very important thing we all must remember is to be careful when it comes to being on medications or being sick/flu. These can dramatically change up our reaction times or perception. I saw it happen to someone I loved, who wasn't feeling well. Instead of calling a friend or relative to take him to dr, he drove. And wrapped himself around a light standard, dieing instantly. Fortunately no-one else was hurt.
Ginger

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@gingerw, You make a great point about how medications can possibly interfere with our reaction times. I'd not thought about slowed down responses while driving and ill but that makes so much sense. Thank you for adding that reminder.

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