I addressed some of the issues of Driving under the influence of dementia in an article I wrote in November 2013. Back then I hadn’t planned on writing a Part 2 for this article, but after a couple local incidents involving DUI of dementia, I must provide the following.
Yesterday afternoon in a suburb of Seattle (in Bellevue), an 89-year old woman with early stage Alzheimer’s left her house for her normal daily routine of going to her favorite pancake house, then to several retail locations. She never returned home last night and as of today, she is still considered missing. I hope the outcome of her case is better than that of another elderly person with Alzheimer’s who also went on a brief errand, but never came home. (Update as of 12/28/13 6:45 pm: this woman was found safe approximately 16 hours after she first left her home. She was found 20 miles away from home. Unfortunately, she wandered 20 miles away from her normal driving area.)
On Saturday, December 21, 2013, Joseph Douret left his Seattle area home (in Issaquah), to grab dinner. He was reported missing the next day by his wife who stated that he never came home the previous evening when he left to grab some dinner for the two of them. Mr. Douret, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, was found dead in his vehicle on Christmas Eve. Police indicated that he appeared to have died of natural causes.
Taking away the keys to a vehicle – or getting rid of the vehicle as need be – are both very difficult tasks, but these are tasks that must take place if a loved one with dementia still has access to their automobile. “But he/she is only driving a few blocks to pick up a couple items; there’s no way he/she will get lost.” Unfortunately, what should be a routine drive can become a death journey because nothing is routine for the person with a brain addled by dementia. Nothing looks normal or familiar; the anxiety ratchets up several notches; panic sets in; and the countdown begins for that person’s last hours of life on earth. Even if the person is eventually found safe, he or she will have endured a very uncomfortable time emotionally and physically. The positive outcome of that incident, however, is that it will most likely be the catalyst that spurs people on to remove all driving options from their loved one.
Please make the decision today to take action and do the responsible thing on behalf of the person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
It’s the not-so-new DUI that is becoming as rampant as are the increased incidences of Alzheimer’s disease in the world.
Are you enabling someone in your family by not having the difficult, yet necessary, conversation about driving safety? “She only uses the car to drive to the grocery store, eight blocks away.” Oh, is that all? Well then, nothing could possibly happen that might harm/kill her or harm/kill another innocent driver or pedestrian, or child on his bicycle zooming out of a driveway and into the street. Right?
In the attached article, Driving with dementia: the dangers of denial, I go into detail about the hazards inherent with driving under the influence of dementia, so I won’t repeat its content here, but I encourage you to take the time to give it a look-see. I’m readdressing this issue because of what I witnessed today:
- A car making an unsafe switch of lanes, barely missing the huge SUV in front of which she maneuvered her car;
- Then I witnessed this SUV – certainly not understanding the circumstances surrounding this affront to his driving – quickly passing the woman and doing the same to her as had been done to him – abruptly changing back into her lane with nary a few inches to spare between his back bumper and her front bumper;
- Now I’m behind the impaired driver who stops suddenly at an intersection (we have the green) and she puts her left hand turning indicator on, only she’s not in the left hand turn lane – she’s in the through lane and she’s risking a multiple-car pileup by her actions. I could not move to the left or right to avoid her so I laid on the horn and fortunately, she proceeded straight ahead, not making her left turn;
- Further down the road she managed to get into the left-hand turn lane and as I passed her, I clearly saw an impaired and confused woman in her 70’s who appeared unaware of where she was or where she was going.
I was in no position to follow her to assure that she was okay, but I did throw up a prayer that she would get safely to where she needed to be – without harm to anyone else as well – and that her family or someone close to her would do what was necessary to take away her car keys.
Denial about this issue doesn’t solve anything. Please make the decision today to remove the keys from a person who absolutely should not be driving because of his or her dementia.
You just may save someone’s life.