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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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: