Ask the Alzheimer’s Expert? How Do I Take Away the Car Keys?
Question: How do I speak to my dad about taking away the keys to the car?
Answer: Caregivers often struggle with the decision whether to take the car keys away from a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. Often, this is because no one wants to take away the independence that comes with driving, and because there is a gray area when it is difficult to know for sure whether or not it is safe for the person to drive. Families will delay taking the keys away until the person with Alzheimer’s disease gets lost while driving or becomes involved in an accident.
Research shows that for the first two years after diagnosis, the accident rate of a person with Alzheimer’s disease is comparable to a person who does not have Alzheimer’s. However, as the disease progresses, the accident rate increases. The best way to determine if it is time to take away the keys is to have the individual with Alzheimer’s tested by an occupational therapist or an organization that has specific training and experience in evaluating drivers with dementia. We don’t want to take the keys away from a person with dementia who is still capable of driving safely, nor do we want to allow people to drive when they are at risk for harming themselves or others.
Warning Signs – When to Take Away the Keys
There are usually some indicators families can look for. Some of the red flags indicating it is no longer safe for the person with dementia to drive include involvement in car accidents and minor fender benders, failure to drive appropriate speed limits, ignoring traffic lights and stop signs, getting lost in familiar places and near misses.
I encourage families to get the support of a physician or a Care Manger, and to make use of the driving assessment for an accurate determination of when the person should stop driving. It is often a difficult task for families to make this decision but at least there is more peace of mind when the assessment is used to make the decision.
It is important that if a physician determines it is no longer safe for a person to drive, that the physician recommends that the person “retire” from driving. The physician can also assess if the person who “retires from driving” to determine if he or she is depressed and recommend to family members that they arrange transportation for the person who may no longer drive. Driving and the decision to take away driving privileges don’t have to be contentious for families. Physicians and driving assessment centers can play a key role on taking pressure off family members.
Florida Driving Assessment Centers
You can find a complete list of the Florida Granddriver® Assessment Centers here.
The Alzheimer’s Association also published this very good video on how to discuss this very important topic with your loved one.