Dementia & Driving: The Warning Signs

Elderly couple in the car confused with flashing police lights. Speeding ticket. Man and woman having argument in the car.Most people feel a sense of control when they’re behind the wheel. So what happens when it’s time to retire the car keys? The decision to stop driving can be one of the most challenging topics families and people living with Alzheimer’s disease face.

Aging may impact our ability to drive safely; however, a person living with Alzheimer’s disease will not be able to drive at some point, because cognitive changes in the brain will affect reaction times and focus.

  • SIGNS OF UNSAFE DRIVING: Sometimes, the first warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease show up in driving abilities — taking longer than usual to run quick errands, forgetting where they’re driving to or how to get there, making mistakes at intersections and frequently not remembering where the car was parked. Since no one has a perfect memory, it’s important to track these kinds. Log any new dents and scratches on the vehicle, tickets or episodes of unsafe driving. If you notice changes, it’s time to take action.
  • PLAN AHEAD: It’s important to make sure you have a options in place ahead of time, because taking away the keys can present problems for caregivers and loved ones alike. Start a routine so the person is still able to maintain an active lifestyle. Involve friends and family who are willing and able help out as unofficial taxi drivers.
  • APPEAL TO THEIR SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY: Be prepared for resistance. Anger is a common reaction. Focus on showing your empathy to the person and plant the seeds for options you have in mind for the future. Remind them of the importance of safety on the road — both their own and other people’s. Try phrases like, “I know you don’t want to hurt anyone driving.” If needed, you can ask your doctor to speak with them or  design a “driving contract” that the person agrees to.
  • REMOVING DRIVING REMINDERS: Depending on the situation, removing the vehicle along with the temptation to drive it can be the most effective action. Letting a family or friend borrow the car for a few weeks can start the transition to no driving and at the same time, give the person the sense of helping another.

There are plenty of ways to get creative in your approach. And your motivation is the safety of everyone on (and off) the road. If you are  experiencing driving challenges yourself, talk to someone. The road ahead is less difficult when you allow others to help you navigate.

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