There is a reason we need a licence to drive: our lives, and the lives of those around us, may depend on it. We often forget, but driving is a responsibility that cannot be taken for granted. Drivers are in control of a 3,000-pound vehicle moving at high speeds surrounded by other 3,000-pound vehicles also going at high speeds. A simple mistake or distraction can lead to instant maiming or death. Requiring focus, quick reactions, and good judgement, operating a vehicle is a work-out of the mind. And when the capacity of the mind decreases, the likelihood of danger increases. So, what does an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis mean for driving? It means quite a bit and is something we must prepare for with our loved ones.
A dementia diagnosis does not mean that the patient needs to immediately stop driving. In fact, one in every third person with dementia still drives. But, it is time to start the discussion.
When dementia has been diagnosed, have a discussion with your loved one and the doctor about driving and when it should stop. Depending on the progression of the condition, it may not be immediate. An assessment from a local driving school will help to evaluate the current skills of the driver. It may also be wise to contact the person’s insurance company to inform them of the diagnosis. Failure to disclose the condition may invalidate the policy. Start planning ahead. Find options for your loved one to get around once they can no longer drive. This can include public transportation or rides from family and friends. Some community organizations offer ride-sharing programs to seniors. If your family member continues to drive, consider these safety tips:
- Keep the drives short and simple; nothing too complex
- Stick to routes they know well, like driving to the grocery store or a friend’s house
- Use quiet and infrequently-used roads; stay off the highways
- Don’t drive at night
Signs that it may be Time to Stop Driving
If your loved one continues to drive after a diagnosis, watch for hints that their capabilities may be compromised by their condition. These include:
- Increased traffic violations and fender-benders
- Slower reactions
- Driving too fast or too slow
- Becoming confused and lost when driving to familiar locations
- Any other out-of-character behaviour
What if the Person Refuses to Stop Driving?
Sometimes, a person suffering from dementia may refuse to stop driving, or could even forget about it. Even after a doctor advises that they not drive, they may do so anyway. This can be a difficult situation. On one hand, you want to be sensitive to the needs of your loved one, but on the other one, safety is paramount. In this situation, options may include:
- An honest and blunt conversation with your loved one regarding their safety and the safety of others. Appeal to their sense of decency; no one wants to see another person hurt
- Hiding the car keys
- Disabling the vehicle by disconnecting the battery
Be patient with the person if they still want to drive and use sensitivity. The loss of driving privileges may be very symbolic of their loss of freedom. It can be traumatic.
Dementia and Alzheimer care is a challenge for even the most experienced and passionate caregiver. Why not seek the help of a professional right in the home? iCare Home Health will provide a qualified, professional, and caring health-provider directly in the home of your loved one. Serving Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, and the entire Greater Toronto Area, iCare Home Health is the premier home healthcare provider. Take a look at our services and contact us today.