I dreaded the moment when I would have to take Dan’s car keys from him; when I would have to confirm his incompetence. This seemed so cruel. I did not want to be party to such cruelty, make such an assault on his independence.

I was lucky. Over time he had abdicated more and more of the driving to me, particularly on trips out of town. I was surprised because he had always insisted on being the driver of the car, whether with me or with others. He was an intense and focused driver.

He continued to drive into town on our regular errands but increasingly needed directions.  One day he made a left turn in front of an oncoming vehicle. The vehicle stopped in time. Dan seemed unaware of what had happened, and when I asked him he had not realized the near collision.

“You almost caused an accident,” I chided.

From then on, I would suggest I drive, and he was always agreeable. Sometime after that, I could not find Dan’s keys. I looked in pockets, everywhere.  Some months later they showed up in the middle of our bed. I was astonished but decided not to ask questions. I quietly put them away.

Most people do not give up their keys so easily. The loss of freedom is not something anyone accepts easily. (I confess I dread the thought of giving up mine.) But sooner or later caregivers have to face the question of how to take the keys.  The dilemma is not only that of taking away a freedom, but also that you may end up having to be confrontative and become the villain or you may have to resort to subterfuge.

Deceiving someone with whom you have always had an honest and trusting relationship goes against everything you feel and believe; it puts  a chink in a relationship you have depended on. It makes concrete the fact the relationship is not what it was.

The dilemma becomes how to find a solution so that you can move forward.

Solutions to taking the keys that others have shared with me:

-Family members sit down as a group and tell the person he or she can no longer drive and thus collectively assume the responsibility—and blame. As any caregiver knows, the caregiver is the first object at whom anger is directed. Having group support helps.

-Have your family doctor inform the person that he or she must not drive any more, perhaps for medical reasons. The doctor can also inform the state Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the person may be notified that his or her license is rescinded or that he or she must take a driver’s test. (Of course he or she may pass the test.)

-Have the police stop the  person for some traffic infraction and take the license.  Or the police may recommend to the DMV that the license be withdrawn.