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Looking Out For Mom – Elderly Drivers In NJ [SERIES]

This is one part of a week-long series during which Kelly Waldron delves into the controversial issue of senior driving. From recognizing the warning signs to having difficult conversations to taking away the keys and finding alternate transportation, it’s an important issue that plagues many families across New Jersey, one of which will share their very personal story.

Her mother-in-law was 89 years old and suffering with dementia and she was getting worse.

Flickr User Tony Crider

“Many times she couldn’t remember where she left something or if we called her,” said a Middlesex County woman who wished to remain anonymous. “We saw things in the house that she was doing that concerned us. She forgot to unplug her toaster, she couldn’t remember where she put a piece of jewelry and she thought someone stole it. There were a number of instances like that. We couldn’t imagine how she could possibly drive her car and know how to get home if she couldn’t remember anything in the short term.”

She knew it was time to have the very difficult conversation in an effort to get her to give up her car keys. As expected, she resisted.

“She said absolutely not, there is no reason I can’t drive the car. I only go places that I know. I know where all the stop signs are, I know where the traffic lights are. I promise I won’t go far,” she said.

It was ok for a while until one day, she backed into a car in the parking lot where she lives.

“That was the beginning of the end. We explained to her that she didn’t have the right reflexes to stop her car,” she said. “She gave us a little argument, but then we said we could give the car to her grandson. He was the apple of her eye and that made her happy.”

“Taking her car keys was taking her independence away. She wanted to be able to go to the store when she wanted to go. She was a very active woman who was up and out every day. So, it was very difficult. We tried hooking her up with all of the senior transit programs. But, she was very hesitant and she didn’t want to rely on public transportation, so I wound up taking her places when she wanted to go,” she said.

It was not a conversation that happened in the course of one day.

“We had to work on it over time as gently as we could. We had to focus on safety. Once she hit the parked car, she was willing to listen,” she said. “We had to ease into it. You can’t just blurt out, ‘we’re taking your car keys away.’ I’m a senior myself now and if someone told me they were taking my keys, I would be completely devastated. Whether you’re 60, 70 or 80, it’s a devastating thing to take away a freedom you’ve had since you were 17 years old.”

“As a senior now, I do believe there should be mandatory testing for everyone between the ages of 80 and 85,” she said.

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