Wednesday January 27, 2021
When Should Memory Care Patients Stop Driving?
Most doctors agree that people with moderate to severe dementia should never get behind the wheel. However, in the early stages of Alzheimer's, the determining factor should be driving performance, not the disease itself.
With that said, it is important to realize that as your mom's driving skills deteriorate over time from the disease, she might not recognize she has a problem. It is very important that you work closely with her doctor to monitor her driving and help her stop when it is no longer safe for her to drive. Here are some additional tips that can help you.
Watch for Warning Signs
The best way to keep tabs on your mom's driving is to take frequent rides with her and be on alert for key warning signs. For example: Does she have trouble remembering routes to familiar places? Does she drive at inappropriate speeds, tailgate, drift between lanes or fail to observe traffic signs? Does she react slowly or make poor driving decisions? Has your mom had any fender benders or tickets lately, or have you noticed any dents or scrapes on her vehicle? All of these are red flags.
If you need some assessment help, hire a driver rehabilitation specialist who is trained to evaluate older drivers. Visit AOTA.org/older-driver or ADED.net to locate one in your area.
Through your assessments, if you believe it is still safe for your mom to drive, you should start recommending some simple adjustments to ensure her safety. For example, she should only drive in daylight, on familiar routes, and avoid busy roads and bad weather. Also, ask her to sign an Alzheimer's "driving contract" (visit ALZ.org/driving to print one). This contract designates someone to tell her when it is no longer safe to drive.
You may also want to consider getting a GPS car tracking device (such as MotoSafety.com or AutoBrain.com) to help you oversee her driving. These devices will let you track where she is driving and allow you to set up parameters for zones and speed limits. You can receive alerts on your smartphone when she exits a specific area, if she is driving too fast or braking harshly.
Time to Quit
When your mom can no longer drive safely, you will need to talk to her. It is actually best to start having these conversations in the early stages of the disease, before she needs to quit driving, so she can be prepared.
You also need to have a plan for alternative transportation (including a list of family, friends and local transportation options) that will help your mom after she can no longer drive.
For tips on how to talk to your mom, the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence offers a helpful guide called "At the Crossroads: Family Conversations About Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia and Driving." You can get the guide at TheHartford.com/Publications-on-Aging.
Refusing to Quit
If your mom refuses to quit, you have several options. First, suggest a visit to her doctor who can give her a medical evaluation and prescribe that she stops driving. Older people will often listen to their doctor before they will listen to their own family.
If she still refuses, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if they can help. Some states require doctors to report new dementia cases to the DMV, who can revoke the person's license.
If these fail, consider hiding her keys or just take them away. You could also disable her vehicle by disconnecting the battery. Alternatively, you can park her car in another location so she cannot see it or have access to it.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.