Intervening in another’s disability?

Should you intervene when someone else is disabled? When a family member is becoming increasingly disabled deciding when to intervene is difficult. This is especially a problem when it impedes the freedom of that person. Driving provides so much freedom, that to inhibit that is a major blow.

As teenagers we can’t wait to get behind the wheel. As parents we look to that day with mixed feelings. We will no longer have to be taxi driver, on call for our children’s needs. But then we worry about what they’re doing and their safety. Once the children have shown a competence we both relax, some.

As we age many things happen to our bodies. Our reflexes slow, our eyes develop cataracts and for some our memory and concentration fail. We compensate for some of these naturally. The thrill of speed and power gives way to a desire for safety and comfort. When I became a parent our family car became a van. Honestly, the four of us couldn’t fit in the sports car.

As my eyesight started failing, my family began to worry. My kids did not like me driving the car pool. My one son avoided riding with me. But they never openly confronted my ability to drive.

In retrospect I know they struggled with the question of when to intervene in my driving. This was a dilemma that many families brought to me as a physician. Often I had a patient who couldn’t remember what day it was or where they were. Yet, somehow they always seem to find their way home. With them rational conversations were likely to end up only in hurt feelings. The solution often came in hiding the car keys or getting rid of the car. For someone who is aware of what is going on it is still an emotional issue.


How much are we responsible for the behavior of others?


Family members have responsibilities that friends don’t have. There is a mutual dependence that will be changed. If you stop somebody from driving, you will have to provide another way for them to get around. Most of us do not live where there are good and accessible alternatives to the car. That was one reason we moved to a city. I now live within an easy walk of four bus lines. With an electronic bus pass I can walk on and off any bus any time. With a phone app I can check the bus schedule while I’m walking down the street. On nice days I enjoy taking a long walk.

While we don’t like confrontation, we also don’t like to see people hurt. That includes the person whose abilities are failing, and those who might be hurt by their actions. At one point I was working as a member of a kitchen crew. We had more people than jobs. I started ladling out the soup. I was a little clumsy. A friend noticed, and offered to take over. He had the courage to risk my hurt pride.

We often see people having difficulty doing things. Sometimes it’s just finding directions. Sometimes I can guess what they’re looking for and point. I appreciate people telling me when the light has changed, and it is safe to cross the street. Other times it may be in carrying something. I have found that most people like a question like, “How may I help you”.

There are many times when we probably should intervene in what a friend or family member is doing. I have shared a couple of personal examples, but am sure you have many more stories. I would love to hear about them and your reasons why you did or did not intervene. Please feel free to leave those comments here.

If this blog has helped you, I would appreciate you at least “liking” it. If you know somebody who might be interested in it please “share”.


As All Ways, Seek Joy,

Coach Dr. Dave,

Author of the forthcoming book, “recipes for lemonade (Thriving through disability): Dr. Dave’s personal recipe”

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