Alzheimer's: When to stop driving
Date Posted: 27.08.2012
If your loved one has Alzheimer's, he or she may not be safe on the road. Explain the risks — then provide other ways to get around.
By Mayo Clinic staff
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 tend to decline with age. Alzheimer's disease accelerates this process dramatically. If you're caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's, you may need to limit your loved one's 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 territory. 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
Opinions vary on whether driving should be allowed at all after an Alzheimer's diagnosis. 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, changing lanes or making turns
- 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
- Becoming angry or confused while driving
If you're not sure whether it's safe for your loved one to drive, ask yourself whether you feel safe riding in a vehicle driven by the person who has Alzheimer's — or if you'd feel safe having your loved one drive your children or others. If the answer is no, then you know it's time for him or her to retire from driving.
How to ease the transition
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.
Remain firm as the disease progresses
If your loved one wants to continue driving despite the hazards — or begin driving again after a period off the road — consider these strategies to keep him or her out of the driver's seat:
- Get a note from the doctor. Sometimes it helps if an authority figure — physician, lawyer, insurance agent — tells your loved one to stop driving. Having something in writing can be a useful reminder.
- Keep keys out of sight. Park the vehicle around the corner or in a closed garage, and don't keep keys in plain sight. If your loved one insists on carrying a set of keys, offer old keys that won't start the vehicle.
- Disable the vehicle. Remove a battery cable to prevent the car from starting, or ask a mechanic to install a "kill switch" that must be engaged before the car will start.
- Sell the vehicle. If you can make do without your loved one's vehicle, consider selling it. 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.