One of the concerns that families face when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia is driving safely. Some individuals may maintain the skills necessary for safe driving in the early stages of dementia while others may not. Since dementia is typically progressive, meaning the condition will worsen over time, driving skills will likely decrease. Because of this progressive nature of dementia and the fact that the condition varies from person to person, it can be difficult to determine when your loved one should stop driving.
Many seniors maintain an active and independent lifestyle because they can drive themselves around. Driving is associated with freedom and independence, so the loss of driving privileges can be upsetting for your aging loved one. While some individuals notice their declining driving skills, others may not notice or insist on driving even if it’s unsafe. When it becomes a risk for your loved one or for others on the road, families and caregivers should intervene.
Individuals with early stage dementia who wish to continue driving should have their driving skills evaluated immediately. Individuals with moderate or severe dementia should not drive. Some signs that a person lacks the skills to drive safely include:
- less coordination
- difficulty judging distance and space
- disoriented in familiar places
- difficulty engaging in multiple tasks
- increased memory loss, especially for recent events
- difficulty processing information
Get an Independent Driving Evaluation
In some states, individuals diagnosed with moderate or severe dementia may have their licenses automatically revoked. To find out about driving and dementia laws, you can call the Department of Motor Vehicles DMV for the state in which your loved one lives. A driving evaluation may be available through the DMV. If your loved one passes an evaluation and is deemed safe to drive, he or she should continue to be re-evaluated every six months since dementia is progressive. If your loved one does not pass, he or she must cease driving immediately.
Continue to Monitor Driving
If your loved one does demonstrate safe driving skills and is still on the road, continually monitor his or her driving behavior. Driving skills may decrease dramatically in a short time span for those with dementia. Sometimes, it’s helpful to document incidents of poor driving and monitor for the following:
- Driving too slowly
- Stopping in traffic for no reason
- Ignoring traffic signs
- Getting lost on familiar routes
- Difficulty with turns, lane changes, or highway entrants/exits
- Difficulty seeing pedestrians or other vehicles
- Increasingly nervous or irritated when driving
- Having accidents or near misses
Have a Conversation with Your Loved One
Some individuals know they’re driving skills are declining and find relief in a family member encouraging them to stop. However, many seniors will find the loss of driving privileges upsetting. They see it as a loss of independence. Encourage your loved one to talk about his or her feelings and try to empathize. Individuals often adjust better if they are allowed to express themselves and are involved in the problem-solving process.
Start the conversation about safe driving early and try to agree on ways to limit, and eventually stop, driving. If your loved one is unwilling to talk about it, ask his or her physician to talk about safe driving during health care visits.
Individuals with dementia who have demonstrated safe driving skills should still begin to modify their driving gradually. The goal is to manage and solve the problem before there is a crisis. Transitioning your loved one from driver to passenger over time can help the adjustment. Helping your loved one maintain an active lifestyle without driving also helps. Encourage your loved one with dementia to try to:
- Drive only on familiar roads and for short distances
- Avoid traffic
- Avoid driving at night and in bad weather
- Have groceries, medications, and other necessities delivered
- Encourage family and friends to visit regularly
- Arrange for family and friends to take your loved one out for social activities and errands
It’s helpful to coordinate transportation for your loved one so that he or she can maintain a level of activity and independence that’s familiar. Some options include:
- Family and Friends.
Consider creating a schedule with the names, phone numbers, and times of availability of friends and family members who are willing to drive your loved one to appointments or social engagements.
- Taxi service.
If your loved one is in the early to middle stages of dementia and does not exhibit behavior concerns, taxis may be an option. Someone should see your loved one off at the start of the ride and meet your loved one upon taxi arrival. It’s ideal if you can pay for rides remotely so that your loved one doesn’t have to handle money.
- Senior and Special Needs Transportation Services.
Many cities and towns offer door-to-door transportation for seniors through the public transit system or the local senior center or elder services.
It is not easy for most individuals to hand over the car key and the freedom that comes with it. Remember to treat your loved one with respect and dignity, acknowledging and addressing his or her concerns while keeping safely their priority. If you have questions about starting a safe driving conversation with your loved one or about transportation options, give us a call at Passionate Private Duty at 847-975-3950.