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How can we get my mother in law to forget we have her car?

My mother in law has been told by 3 of her doctors that she can no longer drive. She is not handling that well. She has dementia,so she forgets that the doctors have even said that. We currently are keeping her car at our house. She calls almost daily screaming and yelling and disowning us. Saying we stole her car and won't give it back. She can't remember what day it is, but she sure remembers who has the car. We have tried talking to her and try to get her to remember but she doesn't want to hear anything we have to say.Help please.
Status: Open    Jan 25, 2016 - 02:43 PM

Dementia, Relationships

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Expert Answers

Jan 29, 2016 - 10:37 AM

I can't say this is an end-all recommendation, but an effective tool I have used is posting a copy of a very clear agreement in a common place (usually the refrigerator.) I do this most often for seniors who have made the decision to move to Assisted Living and may forget during the coordination process. By posting an agreement on the refrigerator that has the signature of family, myself and, most importantly, the senior we create a tool that then is a reference point when situations like yours arise.

I think it is worth a shot for you. Print up a simple paragraph on why mom cannot drive and that the car is being safely cared for. Create signature lines for you, other family, the physicians AND your mom. Simple, kind and reassuring are the goals. When it is complete, gather those signatures and go over it with your mom. If at all possible, get her to also sign it. When that is done, keep the original VERY SAFE and make as many copies as you need. Post one in the clearest space you can refer to - usually the refrigerator. Then, when your mom calls, you can calmly explain that you have all decided together to not have the car and refer her to the note as verifiable proof that you are speaking the truth.

Hope it helps! Would love to read any other recommendations to this question.

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By llrjs on Aug 06, 2016 - 05:14 PM | Like (0)  |  Report

We went through a similar situation. My brother owned the car, bought it for my mother and never put her name on the pink slip. He took it away from her and then told her she had sold it and didn't know who he sold it too. Eventually she forgot. She is still with us and she is no longer angry about "those indiscretions" we committed. She just loves us and is happy that we visit. (she is in a memory care facility) I believe if your mother transitions similarly this anger will not last long.

By kasewow on Aug 07, 2016 - 10:36 AM | Like (0)  |  Report

Our situation was similar. It began when Mom and I went shopping. She drove across a major highway nearly causing a fatal accident. I knew then her driving days were over. Then mice chewed wires on the car's battery. We did not replace the battery; and I never thought I'd be grateful to mice. We scheduled an appointment with Mom's doctor. He checked her hearing, reflexes, vision, etc. Then he explained to her he would be contacting DMV; and she would no longer be able to drive. Mom was angry with my brothers, but livid with me (eldest). It didn't help when her friends and other relatives called and scolded me for 'taking away her independence'. My solace was that innocent people would not be killed in a senseless accident. Within a year she moved to assisted living then a memory care unit. Dementia/Alzheimer disease robs a person more than we can comprehend. I love her and miss her, especially the 'old mom' I always knew.

By Melusine on Aug 15, 2016 - 10:21 PM | Like (0)  |  Report

Mother's doctor wrote the note that said she could no longer drive. This meant she no longer needed the car or insurance. We priced the car, my sister wrote the check and bought it from mother. We kept copies of the check and deposit slip and show these to mother whenever she is angsting, as with her dementia/alzheimer's she will/does not remember, but when it comes up, showing her the paperwork seems to give her comfort that no one has taken anything from her and that we are acting in her best interest to conserve her estate for her.

By amarketofsubstance on Oct 05, 2016 - 11:36 AM | Like (0)  |  Report

Kasewow etc. (Please comment).

In our case, we don't have facts about our elders ability to drive; she past a mature driving class and the recommendation was she drive within 5 miles of her home in the daylight. She is very competent mentally. Her health has declined since this exam in 2015 and/but her driver's license is current and no tickets.

I'm confused; I just re-read the results of this test and I think the following needs re-consideration. And, I don't know if a POA (my sibling) is authorized to make the decision to hold my Aunt's keys, without her approval. Can we experts?

Everyone we know says she shouldn't be driving. She's had dings fender benders etc. My brothers, sharing your same concern, took her keys. They filed with the DMV as well, which I thought was out of line. Observations are important in evaluating an elder's ability to drive but not the only consideration.

She constantly says we have, "ruined her life" by taking away her keys. As I understand it Kasewow, a loved one that is competent mentally may forgive but often will not forget this kind of intervention. My brothers and our spouses empathize with your situation. I've held the line on not giving her the keys I have; and, her health has improved since she moved to Assisted Living since a fall which precipitated her going to health care for rehab and our moving her to A.L. During a very emotional time for her in the midst of a very reluctant move to Assisted Living, a police officer did pull her over for swerving and someone from the retirement center needed to come to drive her home. This was the trigger for my brothers and spouses; and, a relative (no longer her POA) had been wanting her to quit driving for some time previously.

I'm encouraging a Cognitive test thru Occupational Health as part of a two part test related to a University's Adaptive Driving Program. Her new Dr. hasn't approved her doing so and has said to her that she needs to talk to her POA; as a Master's level Social Worker formerly working with elderly, I don't believe she is getting enough assistance to "retire from driving" because she can't relate to her health declining. I'm advocating for this because it would provide "facts" for all of us re: her present status. The Director of the program said she has no qualms about not passing someone in the Cognitive Testing required to take the Adaptive Driving evaluation.

I adore her and she's been a professional mentor for me because we're in the same field. I worked with elderly; she's not as sharp but certainly sharper than many persons still driving I used to work with. While I own my bias in, perhaps, enabling her, I also feel that her rights and process as an elder and to have her keys (drive?) is not being followed.

I know someone whose father insisted on driving and drove thru a window of a business and, thank goodness, didn't injure anyone.

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Jan 30, 2016 - 11:43 AM

We had a similar situation with my parents. They were both diagnosed with Alzhiemer's. Both lost their drivers licenses due to the disease. We explained to our parents that we needed to remove the car, but mom asked that we leave it in the carport where she could see it. We told her that we would have to disable it and she agreed. In the meantime, we were attempting to sell it. Both parents soon forgot the agreement. Mom began calling anyone who would listen, including AAA (they came out 6 times in one day!), her lawyer, security at the retirement community where they lived, her doctor and the police. She had our poor 84 year old dad spending hours under the hood of the car, trying to "fix" the car! This went on DAILY for 2 weeks, so we decided to move the car to my brother's house. Things went from bad to worse! Like you, it amazed us that they didn't know what day it was, but they remembered about the car. Mom would wake up every morning and begin the telephone calls, telling everyone that my brother stole the car and that she wanted him arrested. She then began calling us and extended family, telling us that we had ruined their lives and that she no longer had a son or a daughter. It was heart breaking. At her worst, mom called the police 95 times (not a typo!!) in one day. The police called me at work and told me that if I didn't put a stop to my mother's calls that they would file a civil lawsuit! We tried what the expert suggested, even laminated the contract and placed them all over the house. That worked for dad, but not for mom. She continued to ask about the car, but stopped the calls until our dad's death. It took moving her to residential care to break the pattern. We were desperate for help and tried speaking to numerous professionals. There were no answers. This is such a horrible disease that has no rhyme or reason. We seek God daily for wisdom and direction and pray for a cure!


Jan 30, 2016 - 04:42 AM

You probably can not make her forget you have her car. The car represents independence that she knows she is loosing.
If you are not using her car if there is a way that you can bring it back to her haouse then disable the car so she can not drive or start it that would probably make her feel better. Removing the battery would probably be the best thing to do. Or have a mechanic install a switch in an out of the way location, under the dash, so she can not start the car.
I told my husband that he could not drive due to medication he was on then the car was moved and I told him since he could not drive yet I was having it fixed. After a while he asked for it less and less then not at all.

Feb 01, 2016 - 07:32 AM

This was probably the hardest issue we faced with my mother. When her doctor told her no more driving we asked her for the car keys she told us we would have to pry them out of her cold dead hands. If we parked the car elsewhere we were accused of stealing. We finally did get the car keys (all of them) but left mom with the clicker. This seemed to satisfy her somewhat. We couldn't disable the car becasue she would call AAA to come get it started. I even tried to tell her that I would take her anywhere she wanted to go except she had to wait until I got off of work. One day she and my dad (who also had dementia) got dressed and got in the car to go eat but they couldn't start the car after many tries with the clicker. They finally got out of the car and went inside the house. That was three years ago. The best thing we did was to hire a caregiver for two or three hours three days a week and she would drive them around in their car whereever they wanted to go. This satisfied them and there were seldom any more issues about it. When mom's car insurance jumped way up recently we decided to sell the car. Thankfully her dementia is at a point to where she hasn't asked where her car is but only two or three of times. We told her it was at the mechanics shop being repaired and she seemed to accept that answer and drop it but three years before it was a horrible situation. There are no easy answers to this situation. I can sympathize with you.

Feb 16, 2016 - 04:16 AM

We had a similar problem with my dad and his truck. For a while we told him that I was borrowing it why my truck was being repaired which started out as the truth due to being in a 5-car accident. Since I was always a "Daddy's Girl” he was content with me borrowing it for a while even though we had to constantly remind him that I was borrowing it and why. Eventually I brought it back but we hid the keys and only allowed him to have the remote to open the doors. He then started hoarding anything and everything in his truck. Mom could not find the remotes to the TV and you guessed it . . . they were hidden in his truck. We are able to giggle about it now cause those were minor things compared to the violent, aggressive and psychotic behavior issues we are dealing with now.

I will tell you that eventually he lost interest and memory of his truck so mom found a buyer. One day when his transition’s volunteer took him out for their weekly coffee the buyer came over and picked up the truck. He very seldom asked where it was for a while then stopped altogether.

I know it seems awful right now but please hang in there. In many cases this unforgiving disease robs our loved ones of their best qualities and replaces them with anger, suspicion, mistrust, hallucinations, elopement, verbal and physical abusiveness and have no idea how much they are hurting their loved ones. You have to keep telling yourself that is the disease talking not your mom!!!!

Feb 25, 2016 - 08:35 PM

Someone with dementia does not want to hear that something has been taken away from them or that they cant use their things. It takes a while, but eventually they will forget most of the time. The man im taking care of has had dementia for about 8 years. He will still occasionally get in a mood about his car. The best thing you can do is to seem as normal and as casual as possible regardless of how they seem at the time and say Oh its at so and sos house...he was fixing it for you and said he will have it here in the morning for you. Even if you have to say this everyday. Or that its in the shop. Be creative, and think of the best things you can. Never try to prove them wrong or prove that they have a mental illness. It wont help...will only aggrivate further. Fake a phone whatever it is you think will help.

Aug 05, 2016 - 01:17 PM

I faced this issue with my mother. At 90 years old, she was still mentally competent and physically able. I started noticing the corners of the front and back bumpers were getting scrub marks (where her bumper rubbed against another car or fixed object). Her friends told me they were afraid to ride with her and they thought she shouldn't be driving. I had a car with a manual transmission which "broke down" in her driveway. Since I "had to have" a car to drive to work, I asked if I could use her car "until I could afford to get mine fixed."

She started asking about getting her car back.... daily, then weekly, then monthly.... and she's finally quit asking. For us, this was a win-win situation. She couldn't drive my car because it was "broken down" (and I had the keys). I was able to get her car away from her, ultimately keeping her from driving.

She technically still owns the car and pays the insurance on it. Having my car in the driveway gives her the peace of mind that people will think someone is home. I believe that... most importantly, this resolution protected her self respect and dignity by not actually TAKING the car from her.

As an aside, her dirver's license is valid until she's 102! Gotta love computers!

Good Luck!

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