If You Have An Older Relative With Dementia Who Still Wants To Drive, This May Be A Kind Solution

Image for article titled If You Have An Older Relative With Dementia Who Still Wants To Drive, This May Be A Kind Solution
Illustration: Jason Torchinsky

As a human, or at least as a primate close enough to human, I have the same anxieties about aging as anyone. As a gearhead, there’s the extra element of dread at knowing that, at some point, I will just be too damn old to drive in a safe way. And you know, not into a Safeway, which may be a possibility. For parents or relatives with dementia, this can be even harder, as they may not understand why they can no longer drive. One of our readers was in this very situation and came up with a remarkably thoughtful solution.


Darwin is a reader who’s been struggling with an elderly grandfather-in-law with dementia who still wants to drive occasionally, even though he is in no way capable anymore. I’ll let Darwin describe what they came up with to solve this issue:

My wife’s 94 year old Grandfather has moderate dementia and was an avid driver. There are gaps when he and his 93 year old wife of 60 years (!!!) are alone at home with no help, and he wants to drive.

Obviously he is a danger to himself and others on the road, and it has been a struggle. We can’t get rid of the car, because it’s a new argument/explanation everyday about why the car is gone. Basically picture “50 First Dates” everyday but an ugly argument every morning about the car. He gets confused and angry and the day is ruined.

So we came up with a solution that we think could help other families in the same situation. We ordered two identical FOB’s ($38 total on eBay) and the local Ford dealership (it’s a 2016 Fusion) was more than happy to cut the key blade to a random design that won’t start any car.

Now, when he tries to drive, the key doesn’t work, he says “I’ll have someone look at the car tomorrow,” and there’s no fight, or ugly memory of the real reason why he’s not allowed to drive anymore, and we can have a good day with him.

The more people I tell about our story the more I hear that this is an issue in other people’s families. The parts guy at the dealership said after talking with us, he’ll be doing the same thing with his uncle.

The solution is an easy way for the person with dementia to remain dignified, keep their car, and avoid even more confusion, which can be a big problem.

Anyway, just wanted to share. It’s not often I get to meld car parts with active dementia treatment, but we did it!

I think this is a really carefully considered and kind-hearted solution. Sure, there’s a car involved that’s just sitting and will never be driven by grandpa again, but the car has a new job, the important task of keeping grandpa as happy as possible given his situation.

Image for article titled If You Have An Older Relative With Dementia Who Still Wants To Drive, This May Be A Kind Solution
Photo: Darwin Brender

If he still thinks he has the car, but there’s some minor issue with the key, then there’s no need to re-hash a painful conversation, over and over. There’s just a bit of inconvenience about not being able to drive that day, but then he can move on.

Sure, there’s deception involved here, but dementia is deceptive as well, and in this case, the reasons for deceiving are based on caring and love.


I hope when I finally become even too addled to drive the Changli, I’ll have people around me who care enough to wave some oily thing with wires attached and tell me that this fell out of whatever car I was planning to drive.

I’m pretty sure that’ll seem plausible enough, and hopefully, I’ll shrug and happily lie about getting that fixed tomorrow. Then I’ll make everyone watch me eat a quarter pound of whitefish salad and pass out into a deep nap in the dog’s bed, or something equally charming.


It was on fire when I got here

Until they have the car repeatedly towed in for service and go bankrupt paying for it