How to Determine When Alzheimer’s Disease Makes Driving Unsafe

Alzheimers DiseaseThe ability to get out of the house and go where you want when you want is a freedom many of us have enjoyed since we were sixteen. Driving is more than a routine part of adult life; it’s a powerful symbol of competence and independence. And the thought of having to give that up can be difficult.

Because of the focused concentration and fast reaction time required for a driver to remain safe, and since these abilities can decline as we grow older (even more so for a senior with Alzheimer’s disease), it can be a real challenge for family members to determine when it’s the right time for a loved one to give up the keys.

The Warning Signs

Since Alzheimer’s disease can diminish reasoning and judgment skills, your loved one may not be open to the recommendation to stop driving, so it then becomes the responsibility of family caregivers to determine when their loved ones need to stop driving for safety’s sake. Consider taking a drive with your loved one and watch for the following warning signs of unsafe driving:

  • Forgetting how to locate familiar places
  • Braking harder than normal for stoplights and stop signs
  • Difficulty seeing things on the road
  • Problems with changing lanes or making turns
  • Running through stop signs
  • Difficulty maintaining the car in the center of the lane
  • Making slow or poor decisions
  • Trouble turning his or her head before changing lanes
  • Hitting the curb while driving
  • Trouble adjusting to the oncoming glare of headlights
  • Driving at an inappropriate speed  (either too fast or too slow)
  • Increased frustration, anger, or anxiety when driving
  • Failure to use turn signals or mirrors
  • Becoming angry and confused while driving
  • Confusing the brake and gas pedal
  • Increased confrontation with other drivers
  • Failing to observe traffic signals or running through stop signs
  • Becoming confused in simple driving situations or lost in familiar areas
  • A series of close calls, collisions, or driving  violations, even if they are minor

Most specialists feel it’s important to help the person with dementia stop driving as soon as possible. A good rule of thumb is to pose this question to yourself: do you feel safe riding in a car or having your family members, including children, riding in a car that the person with dementia is driving? Ask yourself if you would feel safe with your children playing on the sidewalk on a street where the person with dementia is driving. If the answer is no, then you know it’s time for him or her to retire from driving.

If the senior refuses to stop voluntarily, it’s important to check with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to find out the procedure for determining the person’s driving ability. A number of MVA offices provide thorough driver safety evaluations to confirm whether the person can continue to drive safely. You may also want to ask your loved one’s doctor for a note indicating that he or she should give up the keys, or simply take control of the keys yourself.

Remember that the ability to drive gives your loved one a sense of independence, and losing that ability isn’t easy. Arranging for alternative transportation via the services of Hillendale Home Care can help ease the transition.

At Hillendale Home Care, we offer a safe solution to allow your loved one to attend social events, doctors’ appointments or outings to beauty appointments, shopping, and more. Your loved one can use public or private transportation accompanied by a trusted Hillendale Home Care caregiver. If it’s time for your senior loved one to give up the keys, contact us at 925-933-8181. We’re always available to plan and arrange for your loved one’s accompanied transportation needs, and to assist with any other Walnut Creek senior support services you need.