Driving and Dementia
Some individuals in the early stages of dementia are able to successfully operate a vehicle; however, as the disease progresses, individuals are at increased risk for accidents. The ability to safely operate a vehicle and adhere to traffic laws takes hundreds of micro-steps and decisions which may be adversely impacted by dementia. Dementia can impact a person’s sensory perceptions, such as depth or peripheral vision. It can also impair a person’s judgment (e.g., the ability to decide if there is enough time to turn left before oncoming vehicles arrive). It can cause general confusion, including discerning the difference between red and green lights, gas and brake pedals, and which side of the street to drive on. Dementia may also cause disorientation, leading individuals to get lost more often, even in the most familiar places.
For these and other reasons, it is important for families to begin discussing driving and driving safety early.
Tips to start the conversation:
- Acknowledge how challenging it may be for your loved one and be sensitive to the fact that this loss of independence is difficult
- Set aside time share your concerns and to listen to your loved one’s concerns
- Discuss the risks of driving
- Familiarize yourself with state regulations on safe driving and license removal
Keep the conversation prevention-focused. Get the care team involved – Request “back-up” by asking your loved one’s physician for a “prescription” or note indicating that the individual should no longer drive. This way, the person may be less likely to direct feelings of anger toward you.
What to watch for:
- Increased disorientation, including getting lost, even in an area they have been driving for years
- Increase in misjudging speed or distance
- Getting into accidents (look for: dents or scratches on the car) or feeling at greater risk of having one
- Passengers are concerned about the individual’s driving
Did you know?
Many cities offer a driving assessment program that is either administered by, or run in cooperation with, police departments and motor vehicles departments. Inquire about such programs by calling your local Area Agency on Aging, police department, and motor vehicles bureau.
AFA’s licensed social workers are available to answer your questions and provide you with assistance. Contact them through the AFA Helpline at 866-232-8484 or by clicking the blue chat icon on the right side of this page. The Helpline is open from 9 am to 9 pm (ET) on weekdays and 9 am to 5 pm (ET) on weekends.