What the heck does FTD have to do with traffic lights? It’s a journey and one that is full of junctions and changes in direction. I am fearful when I write of sounding corny or trite in this blog. Speaking of ‘journeys’ and ‘paths’ seems so not like me somehow. Seems more like those other people who have challenging situations in their lives. Oh wait, that was us. We had a challenging situation.
“Navigating through the challenges”. Now there’s a sentence you hear a lot these days. Somehow when you’re in the thick of that traffic jam of dementia, you aren’t even aware that you are. You just get on with it. There isn’t time to linger at the light. It’s like when you realize you’ve arrived somewhere and you don’t remember passing all those familiar sights on the way. But you did.
Driving is something that always comes up with anyone suffering from any kind of cognitive change. Driving is power. Driving is control. Even in an altered mental state, people still try to exert control over their surroundings. Losing this power means losing independence. The thing that everyone fears the most.
The green light is a ‘Go’. The green light is life before FTD. Life before only one of you can semi-control what’s going on. Green is good. Green is life as you imagined it would be in your fifties. Green is your 35-year marriage. Finally being able to go where you want, when you want.
The green light means that your spouse drives to work, the store, the restaurant. On vacation to another state, to a sports event, to his golf game – just about everywhere. The green light means you get to drive when you want to too. The green light is independence for you both.
The yellow light is very different. The yellow light is a warning. The yellow light tells you to slow down because you’re going to have to stop soon. To your loved one with dementia, the yellow light is also a signal of change. Their loss of independence. Telling them they can’t drive anymore is like lighting a fuse. You can make the doctor the ‘bad guy’. Make them tell him/her they can’t drive anymore. Tell them what a liability they’ve become because their judgment is affected. That goes down well (!). They have no insight into their condition or behavior. They think you are just trying to rule the world. Especially theirs.
As a side note here, many FTD patients successfully pass a DMV test. Driving around the block isn’t quite the same as driving at 80mph on the freeway.
There are things you can do. Sneaky things. Here are the promised top three:
1) Hide the keys. A little obvious but sometimes works. Help to look for them. You may have to sometimes suffer a torrent of frustration and abuse. But it’s better than your loved one going out with a lethal weapon (the car) and hurting someone or themselves. After a while they’ll forget what you’re looking for.
2) Get rid of the car. Of course that may mean you don’t have one either. But if you have a second car that sits home while you are at work, remove the temptation. Tell them it’s in the shop. (See numbers 1) and 3) re. forgetting)
3) Substitute a fake set of keys that don’t work. Then say you will get them replaced. At an indeterminate time. Or say the car is broken. You’ll take it in to the shop. They’ll forget eventually.
Ok that’s probably actually four things but I snook an extra one into number 3) It’s allowed -it’s my blog. You’ll come up with some ideas of your own probably. It’s surprising how inventive you can become. At first it feels deceptive. But you’ll soon get used to it. For the sake of your own sanity and peace in your home. More to come on that subject soon.
Driving may be your beloved’s last link with ‘feeling normal’. Driving is a symbol of freedom. Of not relying on anyone else. The yellow light means they have to rely on someone else. The yellow light means the chauffeur gets to decide when, where and with whom they go out. It makes them mad. The yellow light in FTD, unlike in reality, stays lit the longest. That’s why this section is the longest.
Red. The red light, as is universally recognized, means stop. Stop moving. Stop driving. Stop everything. Red means everything is on hold. Red means no more. No more driving, eventually no more going out at all. No more trips together. No more living as we know it. I don’t mean it symbolizes physical death. In this metaphorical context it symbolizes the end of life as one would prefer it. None of us would choose to be dependent on another for everything. Even the simplest of needs. The reality we would choose is just that. The one we choose. Of all the things lost to FTD, freedom of choice is one of the biggest. Wars are fought over it. Globally and in your house.
FTD robs one of the spirit, the love, the independent thought that our mothers spent most of our formative years cultivating. FTD steals away that which makes your loved one unique.
Driving, traffic lights, junctions. The road traveled by FTD families is a rocky one.
Proceed with caution, but as always, with love.