While driving is second nature for many people, operating a motor vehicle becomes increasingly difficult—and, indeed, dangerous—for those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. And for seniors in general, the notion of not driving is a touchy topic that threatens their sense of freedom. For that reason, caregivers should plan ahead for the time when an Alzheimer’s patient must relinquish his or her driving privileges.
Inevitably, individuals with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia will eventually begin showing signs that the disease is affecting their driving abilities. Failing to obey traffic signals, driving too fast or too slow, crossing center lanes, or bumping into curbs are all indications that a person’s driving skills are deteriorating.
Additional signs include aggression toward other drivers on the road or displaying ill temper toward passengers in their own car—usually resulting from frustrations caused by their own diminished driving abilities. Impacted drivers might also start getting lost heading to once familiar places, misplace their cars in crowded parking lots, or simply forget where they are going when driving.
Those behaviors are indications that an individual should not be operating a vehicle.
Without actually observing an Alzheimer’s patient behind the wheel, it’s easy for caregivers to overlook a decline in someone’s driving abilities. So caregivers should watch for other warning signs.
Red flags include an increase in parking and traffic ticket frequency, or new scratches or dents appearing in the driver’s car. Both suggest carelessness and are further signs that the person in your care should no longer be driving.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s typically underestimate how much their driving abilities have declined. Therefore, if you’re noticing disturbing signs, it’s time for a frank discussion about driving.
Rarely will someone with dementia willingly hand over their car keys and driver’s license simply because you suggest it. So don’t be afraid to recruit some help.
Start by voicing your concerns to the person’s physician, and ask the doctor to instruct the patient to stop driving. In some instances, physicians are required to file a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles disclosing the person’s dementia diagnosis.
It’s also helpful to have others encourage someone with Alzheimer’s to stop driving—people such as friends, clergy, or anyone else the person trusts. What’s more, those conversations often lead to offers to help with transportation.
Of course, if the person in your care will still not listen, it’s time to put your foot down.
When all else fails
While caregivers often feel badly about taking away a person’s ability to drive, it’s important to consider the person’s overall safety—as well as that of everyone on the road around them. Tactics such as hiding the car keys, removing the car battery, or taking away the car could be necessary to deter someone with dementia from driving.
For more information about driving with Alzheimer’s, visit the National Institute on Agicn website.