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Driving and Dementia: Time to Stop?

Driving for most people is more than a routine part of adult life; it’s a powerful symbol of competence and independence. It’s also something most adults find very hard to part with when the time comes to consider giving up the independence and control that driving represents.

Because of the focused concentration and fast reaction time required for a driver to remain safe, and since these abilities usually decline significantly as we grow older (even more so for a senior with Alzheimer’s disease), it can be a real challenge for family members to determine when it’s the right time for a loved one to give up the keys.

The Warning Signs

Because Alzheimer’s diminishes reasoning skills, your loved one may resist the request to stop driving, so it’s often up to family caregivers to determine when their loved ones have become unsafe behind the wheel. Consider taking a drive with your loved one and watch for the following warning signs of unsafe driving:

  • Forgetting how to locate familiar places

  • Braking harder than normal for stoplights and stop signs

  • Difficulty seeing things on the road

  • Problems with changing lanes or making turns

  • Running through stop signs

  • Difficulty maintaining the car in the center of the lane

  • Making slow or poor decisions

  • Trouble turning his or her head before changing lanes

  • Hitting the curb while driving

  • Trouble adjusting to the oncoming glare of headlights

  • Driving at an inappropriate speed(either too fast or too slow)

  • Increased frustration, anger, or anxiety when driving

  • Failure to use turn signals or mirrors

  • Becoming angry and confused while driving

  • Confusing the brake and gas pedal

  • Increased confrontation with other drivers

  • Failing to observe traffic signals or running through stop signs

  • Becoming confused in simple driving situations or lost in familiar areas

  • A series of close calls, collisions, or driving violations, even if they are minor

Most specialists feel it’s important to help the person with dementia stop driving as soon as possible. A good rule of thumb is to pose this question to yourself: do you feel safe riding in a car or having your family members, including children, riding in a car that the person with dementia is driving? Also think about whether you'd feel safe with your children playing on the sidewalk beside a street where the person with dementia is driving. If the answer is "no," then you know it’s time for him or her to retire from driving.

If your senior loved one simply refuses to agree to stop driving, it is crucial to check with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to see what the procedure is for evaluating the person’s ability to drive safely. Many MVA facilities offer safe driver evaluations to see whether the person should continue driving. You can also request a note from your loved one’s physician that states that he or she should stop driving, or simply take control of the keys if needed.

Remember that the ability to drive gives your loved one a sense of independence, and losing that ability isn’t easy. Arranging for alternative senior transportation via the services of a home care company can help ease the transition.

At AAging Better In-Home Care, one of the primary services we offer is transportation for those seniors who can no longer drive. We often help these individuals get to social events, doctors’ or hair appointments or outings to the grocery store, park, church, etc., always safely accompanied by one of our caregivers.

When it’s time for your senior or loved one to give up the keys, consider what a home care company might offer. It can be one of the best decisions you can make for your loved one.

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