By Betty Berry, Tuesday, July 27, 2010  Q: I am helping my sister-in-law deal with my brother, who has dementia but insists that he can still drive.

He is very stubborn, and no matter what we say to him, tells us he is a safe driver. Whenever he can, he sneaks out and “takes a ride.”

What can we do?

A: Explaining anything to a person with dementia can be difficult at best; however, talking about taking away driving privileges is even more difficult because this represents a tremendous loss of independence. Bringing up the issue can trigger anger, denial and grief.

Unfortunately, someone suffering from dementia doesn’t recognize that he or she no longer has the ability to make the split-second decisions required to safely operate a vehicle.

You don’t say whether you have talked with your brother’s doctor, but if you haven’t, that might be a place to start. Often, a person with dementia is more willing to listen to a third party such as a doctor than to a family member.

Another approach is to team with family and friends, with each person pointing out a different problem that he or she has observed, such as failing to observe traffic signals, driving at inappropriate speeds, getting lost in a familiar location, or becoming angry, frustrated or confused in traffic.

This “tough love” approach often makes an impression.

If talking doesn’t resolve the problem, making the car unavailable or inoperable can prevent your brother from sneaky driving sessions.

Hide the car keys or substitute unusable keys on his key ring, park the car at a friend’s house so he doesn’t have easy access to it, or have a mechanic disable it.

When your brother wants to go somewhere, offer to drive.

If you do drive, remember to never leave a person with dementia alone in a parked car.

Last but not least, consider selling the car.

Whatever steps you take, be persistent and consistent. The safety of your brother and those who would share the road with him is most important.

Although no one wants to limit independence by taking away driving privileges, please don’t wait for an accident to happen.

Q: My parents were married for more than 60 years and now Mom is gone. Dad insists on living alone but seems unable to manage the household. I’m sure this is common.

Is there a way to plan for living alone after many years of marriage?

A: Yes, this situation is common. Generally, women find that they don’t know enough about finances and men have difficulty with household chores.

After many years together, couples work like a single unit, and with both participating the household runs smoothly. They usually don’t think about which chores each spouse performs until a particular task doesn’t get done.

If we each took time to observe the little things our spouses do, and learn to do those chores ourselves, even if we just learn the basics, we would be better prepared.

Learn how to put gas in the car. Learn how to buy groceries. Learn how to cook enough to survive. Learn how to do laundry or run a vacuum. Learn how to pay bills and organize finances.

Even if the need to do these chores never arises, think how much you will appreciate what your spouse contributes to the smooth running of your household.

— Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362; call 495-6250 or e-mail (please include your telephone number). You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.

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