Elderly Driving and Dementia: When should your family member stop driving?

Elderly driving skills and dementia can be a dangerous combination. Aging alone changes our driving abilities. The reaction time needed to respond to driving hazards grows longer. Vision may be impaired. Physical limitations may affect the driver's ability to control the car.

Dementia and Alzheimer's disease (AD) add a further layer of danger as sufferers have trouble processing fast paced information. They may not reliably interpret visual information. They may exhibit impaired judgement. Due to the impaired judgement that accompanies dementia and AD, your family member may deny that he is having issues with driving and resist your attempts to discuss alternatives.

The only way to assess your family member's ability to drive is to ride with him. The following warning signs mean that your family member should stop driving immediately.

  • Running stop signs or red lights without noticing
  • Stopping at green lights for no reason
  • Narrowly missing pedestrians or cars without realizing it
  • Switching lanes or merging without looking
  • Going the wrong way on one-way streets
  • Getting lost in familiar areas
  • Stopping in the middle of intersections
  • Mixing up gas and brake pedals

  • Asking your family member to stop driving is a very tough topic for families and seniors. This is not the type of conversation that you can just dive into without some preparation and expect to resolve in one conversation.

    Driving is very much tied to our sense of adulthood and independence in the United States. In many areas, not driving is difficult because few resources to support non drivers exist.

  • Find out about alternatives to driving that exist in your parent's community.
  • Think through your parent's likely response to a discussion on driving and be emotionally prepared for it.
  • Pick a quiet time to share your concerns about your parent's driving with him. Tell your parent about the alternatives to driving that you have discovered.
  • If your parent agrees to stop driving, assist him with planning how he will run errands, keep appointments and enjoy social outings while not driving. Discuss how his car will be handled.

    If the car is to remain at your parent's home, be sure to double check that he has not forgotten your agreement and resumed driving.

    If your parent does not want to stop driving, your actions will vary according to the situation. Consider whether he will be influenced by his doctor advising him not to drive or having his license revoked. In many states, a diagnosis of dementia must be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles by the patient's doctor.

    If he persists in driving, you may need to disable or remove the car.

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