- The struggle to get into a car
- The white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel
- The glazed-over eyes
- The snail’s pace speed
- The failure to adhere to basic driving rules
- The “near misses” with other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists
- And so on . . .
Remember, driving is a privilege and not a right. Don’t allow a person with dementia to drive. Please read on.
Driving a vehicle is a complex activity that requires several abilities and skills, such as:
- Quick reactions
- The ability to divide your attention (e.g., watching a traffic light and pedestrians, while keeping your foot on the brake)
- Good judgment
- An understanding and ability to recall the rules of the road
- The ability to find a destination
- Adequate eyesight and hearing.
Driving also represents freedom, independence and mobility. Although driving is a privilege, some people view it as a right. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias cause changes that affect a person’s ability to drive a motor vehicle safely. A diagnosis of dementia, however, does not automatically mean that a person is incapable of driving. Some people may be capable of driving safely for some time after the diagnosis, depending on when in the disease progression the person has been diagnosed and the rate the disease progresses. Eventually, however, people with Alzheimer’s disease must stop driving, as it will no longer be safe.
A) While the person with Alzheimer’s disease is still driving
For people who have been driving for many years, driving may feel mostly automatic. But driving is a complex task that requires quick reactions, thought processes and dexterity. If you think the person with Alzheimer’s disease may be having difficulty driving, watch for these signs:
- Traffic violations
- Getting lost
- Misjudging distances
- Forgetting the rules of the road
- Slow response times
- Taking too long to reach a destination.
What you can do:
- Plan ahead
- Arrange for a driving assessment
- Monitor driving habits
- Increase safety
Plan ahead for the time when driving must stop. Talk with the person with Alzheimer’s disease to find out when driving is needed most and why. For example, is it for keeping medical appointments, shopping, entertainment, meeting with friends? Or is it perhaps more a form of escape or relaxation? Once you’ve found out the person’s driving needs, talk about other ways of getting around. These can include:
- Public transit
- Rides provided by community organizations
- Lifts from family members and friends.
Arrange for a driving assessment
Look into special testing to assess the driving abilities of a person with dementia. This could be a driving simulation test and/or a road test, carried out by someone with experience in testing drivers with cognitive problems. If this type of driving assessment is not available, ask a doctor to determine if and when the person is no longer able to drive. The doctor may ask the person and family members questions about:
- Driving patterns (when and where the person drives)
- Any differences noticed in driving skills
- Any unsafe or abnormal driving behaviour
- Traffic tickets (for going too slowly, too quickly, improper turns, failing to stop)
- Crashes, fender benders or near-misses
- Instances where the driver has been lost
- How comfortable the person or family members feel about the person’s driving abilities.