Late one evening I was deeply immersed in editing the photographs I'd taken at the Cincinnati Zoo that day when I was startled by the phone ringing. I thought it was probably Ed, my beloved Romanian soul mate.
But it wasn't.
It was a sweet female voice I didn't recognize calling to tell me she'd found Ed driving on the wrong side of the road. He'd pulled over and so she'd stopped too, and seeing how confused he was, she offered him a ride home.
Oh, my God! He could have been killed. Or killed someone else.
I was really upset. He knew he wasn't supposed to drive after dark. He had promised me.
I tried to convince myself it wouldn't have happened had he not been driving after dark. In my denial I failed to make any connection between that event and the many lapses of memory and other signs of confusion he'd been showing for some time.
Yes, he had Alzheimer's. And no, I didn't realize it yet.
When I arrived at his apartment that night I demanded to know why he'd been driving after dark. He explained that he'd gone to buy some Italian bread and when he came out it was dark. He said he got 'meexed' up (as he pronounced it). He said he turned on the wrong street and got lost.
Suddenly I realized the cold hard truth. He could no longer drive safely. My heart sank. I told him very quietly that he had to stop driving.
Then he started yelling that he'd never stop. He said he didn't care if he 'keeled' himself. He even said he didn't care if he 'keeled' someone else.
In the days, weeks, and months after that incident, I asked Ed to stop driving. I begged him to stop. I implored him. Cajoled. Pleaded. Insisted. I ordered him to stop. I alternated that with trying to explain in reasonable terms why he should stop. To no avail. His response was always the same:
"I will never stop driving!"
The problem was that Ed's Alzheimer's was too advanced for him to keep driving, but he was still too alert for me to be able to successfully use some of the usual tactics to get people with dementia to stop driving.
Had I disabled the car he would have found a mechanic to come and fix it. Had I hid the keys he would have had replacements made. Had I parked the car around the corner he would have filed a police report. They'd have found and returned it. I could have tried having his doctor or lawyer talk to him, but I was 100% certain he wouldn't listen to them any more than he'd listened to me.
Finally, at the end of my rope, I decided to threaten him. As we were having our usual Turkish coffee one afternoon, I looked him right in the eye and said, "Ed, if you don't stop driving, I'm going to report you to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. They'll make you take a driving test and you know you'll fail. Then they'll take away your driver's license."
Ed was at a loss for words for the first time in the twenty-five years I'd known him. We stared at each other for several seconds, then he asked if I'd like to go to lunch. I agreed, deciding to let it go for then.
I had no intention of turning him in. I was just hoping the threat would scare him into giving up driving.
I didn't see Ed again until the following Sunday, when he delivered what sounded like a well-rehearsed little speech. Basically he told me that he couldn't stop me from turning him in to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, but that if I did it would cost me 'tousands' of dollars. Not 'hunnerds' of dollars - 'tousands.'.
It took me a few seconds to understand, but when I finally did, I burst into laughter. He was threatening to disinherit me!
I never did get him to agree to stop driving, but I finally did get him to stop. Slowly, as time passed, I discovered the solution. One day I was going to Kroger's and asked if he wanted to come. He said he did and I drove. So I started inviting him every time I went. He was always happy to go and let me drive. Then I started inviting him to various other stores and took him to those, too. Eventually I just started having him make lists of his errands and I did them all for him.
And since I had taken away his need to drive, pretty soon he stopped driving. In fact, he never drove again the rest of his life. (However, in an ironic twist of fate, one year he made me drive him to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to renew his license - just in case - even though he hadn't driven for years!)
Thus, without even realizing it - in my denial, I still didn't acknowledge that Ed has Alzheimer's - I'd solved this first serious dementia-related problem.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) has a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.