Driving and Deep Brain Stimulation
Last updated: September 2021
The tires of the van hit the highway’s rumbling strips, ripping at a low pitch. My dad was out of bounds again. We were on our way from the cottage back to our home, 4 hours south.
Maybe it was that he hadn’t timed his Sinemet dosage effectively, or it just wasn’t working, but he was struggling to maintain control of the steering wheel.
My little brother was driving another vehicle directly behind us when the weaving began. When he noticed the wiggling steering wheel, he decided to follow my dad in order to keep an eye on the traffic patterns.
Was it safe for my Dad to keep going? We sat asking ourselves about the ethics of letting him drive.
He insists on driving
At the gas station, I offered to drive, telling my Dad that I like having something to do anyways. Four hours is a long time in the car for anyone, let alone for someone who struggles with Parkinson’s symptoms.
My Dad stubbornly refused, despite recognizing his unsettling driving patterns. He assuaged my fears by telling me that he just took too long between doses, and his drugs should kick in at any moment. The pit in my stomach didn’t go away.
Receiving deep brain stimulation
The following month, my dad received deep brain stimulation (DBS). A neurosurgeon drilled holes in his skull and implanted devices that would help to intercept or change the electrical signals in his brain.
The results weren’t immediate, but by the time I saw him again a few months later, he’d regained his ability to drive within the lines of the highway, to walk with ease, and even to drink a cup of coffee without sloshing it.
The disease wasn’t gone. It won’t ever go away. But it seemed like my dad was receiving a breath of fresh air. Instead of watching his imminent demise, he could see himself regaining abilities.
How long will the results last?
Not everyone is a candidate for DBS, and the results can vary greatly. When dad first emerged from the hospital, he panicked, thinking that the procedure might reduce his quality of life instead of heal it.
He ended up being lucky, and finding certain liberties from reduced Parkinson’s symptoms. But even with this pause in decline, I worry about the time when I’ll have to tell him to hand me his keys.
How long do you think we’ll have before his tremors shake him into disarray? Is it safe for him to be driving now? Will it be safe for him to drive in a year from now? It feels challenging to police your own father, determining which liberties he can and cannot have.
Will he resent me?
If allowing him to drive means that others could suffer the consequences, I know he’ll need to stop. Is there a way to have this discussion without causing him to resent me?
I don’t have the answers. Just the questions. And I hope that he’ll be brave enough to hand over the keys of his own accord.
While DBS was able to delay the inevitable for a few years, I’m sure that we’ll return to chaos again. And when we do, I won’t be ready for it.
Do you experience issues with spatial awareness?