Driving is a powerful symbol of competence and independence, besides being a routine part of adult life. But the focused concentration and quick reaction time needed for safe driving tends to decline with age. Alzheimer’s disease accelerates this process dramatically. If you’re caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s, you may need to modify his or her driving – or stop his or her driving completely.
More than memory problems
Dimmed short-term memory makes it easy for a driver who has Alzheimer’s to get lost, even in familiar surroundings. Perhaps more dangerous, however, is a decline in the ability to judge distances and predict upcoming traffic problems. A driver who has Alzheimer’s may also have trouble prioritizing visual cues. An irrelevant sight, such as a dog jumping behind a fence, may distract the driver from important cues — such as brake lights or traffic signs.
When to stop driving
Driving concerns often surface during the early stages of memory changes. People with dementia are especially likely to minimize the complexity of driving and overestimate their abilities. Opinions vary on whether driving should be allowed at all after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Research indicates that drivers with Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to get into motor vehicle accidents. For some people, it may be easier to give up the wheel early on, when they can still grasp the potential hazards. On the other hand, people in the early stages of the disease may be able to safely limit their driving to short daytime trips in familiar surroundings.
If your loved one continues to drive, pay attention to warning signs of unsafe driving, such as:
- Difficulty navigating to familiar places
- Inappropriate lane changing
- Confusing the brake and gas pedals
- Failing to observe traffic signals
- Making slow or poor decisions
- Hitting the curb while driving
- Driving at an inappropriate speed (often too slow)
- Becoming angry or confused while driving
When your loved one stops driving, arrange for alternative transportation. Perhaps family members and friends can run errands with your loved one, or you can arrange transportation through a senior van route. You may be able to establish a payment account with a taxi service so that your loved one can go places, but won’t have to handle money.
Also consider ways to limit your loved one’s need to drive. Many items — such as groceries, meals and prescriptions — can be delivered to your loved one’s home. Some barbers and hairdressers make house calls as well.
Whether your loved one stops driving all at once or in stages, he or she will probably grieve the loss of independence. Be as patient as you can, but remember to stand firm. The consequences of unsafe driving can be devastating.
To contact us here at the Alzheimer’s Care Resource Center
Please call us at (561) 588-4545. Thanks for watching today’s Wednesday Workshop and we’ll see you again next week!