My name is Jane and my husband of 36 years was diagnosed with Dementia/Alzheimer’s about three and half years ago. This blog is a tale of our lives after “Al” (the name I’ve given Joe’s disease) moved in. In the two years since I began this blog, it's been read in over 25 countries. It really is "AL" over the world. Thanks for coming along with us down a path of uncertainty. Joe passed on November 19, 2016.
Monday, February 2, 2015
ALZHEIMER'S--DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION
Joe with our rental car in Paris 2002
When I was a child, my father was the driver”.
Oh, my mother had a driver’s license; I mean she could drive a car, but only if “The Driver” wasn’t in the car. That’s just the way it was. (I know what you’re thinking but remember, this was back in the 50’s and 60’s.)
After Joe and I got together, and even though I’d driven since I was 16, for the most part when we were together, he drove. I stood my ground on most equality fronts, but wrestling for the steering wheel just wasn’t on the top of my list.
Joe was a good driver. He always knew where he was and where he was going. He could get back to anywhere he had ever been. He would say things like, “Remember when we were in Washington on Hwy 14, and we took Hwy 97 across the Columbia River to Biggs Junction?” I wouldn’t remember the names of any of those roadways. With our car’s navigation system I might be able to get there, but without it things could get sketchy.
So in the winter of 2013, when Joe and I had a conversation about driving and whether it might be time to hang up the keys, it didn’t go well.
By then, I could see that Al had started invading Joe’s concentration, making it harder to manage his reaction time and judgment behind the wheel.
In Joe’s mind, he still had plenty of driving ability; after all, he’d never had an accident that was his fault.
That was true. Joe and Al had never wrecked the car. Well, there was that little thing with the garage door and forgetting to open it and driving the golf cart into it, but that wasn’t really a car accident.
I came up with reasons why I should drive. Joe was a better navigator and map reader. I was ten years younger meaning my reflexes were naturally faster. And of course, I’m the world’s worst backseat driver, so if I drove, he wouldn’t have to deal with all of the drama I created for him.
It didn’t work.
So, I played the guilt card. (I’m really good at guilt.) What if Joe (with Al in the car) wasn’t entirely alert and had an accident and wound up injuring someone? How would he feel?
He thought about it and finally admitted, “Well, I don’t think I could live with that.”
That winter I drove to Southern California with Joe as navigator. And even though the car had a slick navigation system, he sat with a map unfolded in front of him so he could track the route and do all the things a good navigator does (whatever they are). That was okay with me.
We stopped for a night at our daughter’s home. I mentioned that Joe was “thinking” about NOT driving anymore. She looked at me, smiled, then turned to her father and picked up the drum beat. She agreeing it was time.
That was all Joe needed; the full support of a daughter he loved and trusted.
On, January 17, 2014, he said good bye to the driver’s seat.
Sounds pretty easy, right? No. This was the beginning of the transition.
People don’t think much about driving and the freedom it allows. We were both accustomed to jumping in the car whenever we felt like it. You need something, you drive to where it is and get it.
But if you have one driver and two people with different agendas, it requires compromise. (Al does not like compromise.) Driving is no longer a shared responsibility, it’s my responsibility. I can’t say, “You pick up the dry cleaning and I’ll go to the grocery”. It has taken time for us to switch gears and adapt to a “car pool” mindset.
It’s been a year now since Joe started buckling up on the passenger side, and another year with Al. Occasionally, Joe still gets frustrated at being “chained to the table” or “hand-cuffed” or some other “Al” inspired metaphor describing his lack of freedom. But I think we’ve adapted.
We traded in the mighty SUV and bought a car that better suits my size. (no more running jumps to reach the seat and get in the car.) And, now that we’re down to one car, there’s more room in the garage (to store junk).
We’ll never know if Joe could have driven longer without an incident. He still thinks he could have, but I heard him tell someone recently that “it just wasn’t worth the risk” to find out if he was right.
Good for you, Joe.
I’ve got to hurry up so I can drive Joe and Al to the library. It’s got a large print section, and Joe’s decided to read all 30 books by John Grisham. Oh, for goodness sake!