Driving and Dementia
A person with dementia will eventually be unable to drive, due to the quick-thinking and decision making that is required to operate a vehicle. Planning at an earlier stage can help make the transition smoother. Below are tips provided by the Alzheimer’s Association to help initiate the conversation and plan ahead, as well as signs for unsafe driving:
Having the conversation
Losing the independence driving provides can be upsetting. It is important to acknowledge a person's feelings and preserve his or her independence, while ensuring the person's safety and the safety of others.
Starting the conversation:
Initiate a dialogue to express your concerns. Stress the positive and offer alternatives.
Address resistance while reaffirming your unconditional love and support.
Appeal to the person's sense of responsibility.
Reinforce medical diagnoses and directives. Ask the physician to write a letter stating that the person must not drive. Or ask the physician to write a prescription that says, "No driving." You can then use the letter or prescription to reinforce the conversation.
Consider an evaluation by an objective third party.
Understand that this may be the first of many conversations about driving.
When the conversation does not go well:
Some people give up driving easily, but for others this transition can be very difficult. Be prepared for the person to become angry with you, due to the memory and insight issues that are part of Alzheimer's.
Be patient and firm. Demonstrate understanding and empathy.
Acknowledge the pain of this change and appeal to the person's desire to act responsibly.
Ask a respected family authority figure or your attorney to reinforce the message about not driving.If the conversation does not go well, do not blame yourself. The disease can impair insight and judgment, making it difficult for people to understand that their driving is no longer safe. Also the disease can cause mood and personality changes that make reactions more pronounced.
As a last resort, take away the car keys, disable the car or remove the car completely. When you do any of these things, be sure to provide safe, reliable alternative transportation.
For people in the early stages of Alzheimer's, it is never too soon to plan ahead for how you will get around when you can no longer drive. Putting a plan in place can be an empowering way to make your voice heard.
Tips for planning ahead:
Remember that each situation is unique. What works for one person may be different from what works for another.
Involve family and close friends in the plan.
Confront resistance. Empathize with those who are uncomfortable having the conversation and stress the importance of preparing for the future.
Develop an agreement for all to share that includes practical safety steps, such as a periodic driving assessment, a GPS monitoring system for the car, and alternate transportation options.
Driving is not the only transportation option available. There are many options people can explore that will allow them to continue to travel independently and remain in control of their mobility.
Transition driving responsibilities to others. Arrange for family members and friends to provide transportation.
Arrange a taxi service.
Use special transportation services for older adults.
Reduce the need to drive by having prescription medicines, groceries or meals delivered.
Signs of unsafe driving
Determining when someone can no longer safely drive requires careful observation by family and caregivers. The following list provides warning signs that it's time to stop driving:
Forgetting how to locate familiar places
Failing to observe traffic signs
Making slow or poor decisions in traffic
Driving at an inappropriate speed
Becoming angry or confused while driving
Using poor lane control
Making errors at intersections
Confusing the brake and gas pedals
Returning from a routine drive later than usual
Forgetting the destination you are driving to during the trip