Receiving a doctor diagnosis of dementia is often overwhelming for the individual and their loved ones. Often everyday tasks become more and more difficult and it is challenging to know how and when to stop those daily tasks. Driving is one of those tasks that we often take for granted, and one that the senior members of our family hold on to as a symbol of their independence. The question is not “if” a person should stop driving, but rather “when”. Dementia affects cognitive functions critical to driving such as reaction time, judgment and problem-solving ability and can cause physical and sensory difficulties that increase risks when driving.
Here are a few warning signs that indicate that the disease may be affecting your loved ones ability to drive:
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Stopping at green lights or braking inappropriately
- Having trouble remembering the destination of the trip or locating a parked car
- Causing damage to one’s car without the ability to explain what happened
- Having difficulty controlling anger and other emotions while driving
- Receiving citations for moving violations
At the point when these signs start to occur, the driver and their loved ones should start the conversation and consider seeing a driver rehabilitation specialist for an evaluation. Also consulting your doctor can help decide when driving should stop.
Here are a few additional tools to consider when the signs are pointing to the fact that driving should be stopped or limited:
- Solicit the support of others. Often consulting with a trusted authority such as a doctor or other medical professional can help reinforce the message and take some of the pressure off the family members during this difficult time.
- Family members should acknowledge the loss and be sensitive. Family members can still try to have the senior member participate in aspects of driving, such as being in charge of the radio or assisting with directions.
- Assure the senior member that transportation will be available to them and plan ahead.
- Make the car less accessible by having the caregiver keep the car keys or consider installing a hidden start switch or selling the car.
Plan early. This is considerably the most important recommendation as planning early will help facilitate the conversation with the senior member, allow you to become familiar with community resources and permit you time to make informed decisions.