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Can a Person with Alzheimer's Still Drive?

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerJune 5, 2017

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can turn a senior’s life upside down, making them feel afraid of both the diagnosis and of the future. The thought of taking away the freedom that comes with driving can be overwhelming.

Learn more about when a loved one should stop driving and how to break the news with compassion and understanding.

Dementia’s Effects on Driving

Driving is a symbol of freedom and independence and taking away that privilege can be a scary thought.  Unfortunately, most seniors with dementia will need to find alternate modes of transportation at some point. A diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s is not necessarily a reason for a senior to stop driving, though specific legal requirements must be fulfilled to continue. Studies have shown that for two years after the initial diagnosis, there is no difference in the accident rate between a person who has Alzheimer’s and a person who does not. However, as the disease progresses, the accident rate increases.

How and When to Give up Driving

Many caregivers wait until a loved one is lost or has an accident before taking the keys away. There are signs that caregivers can look for before a loved one is hurt or hurts others. Consider talking to a senior about giving up driving if they:

  • Are not driving at appropriate speed limits
  • Become involved in minor fender benders
  • Ignore traffic signals
  • Get lost in familiar places
  • Feel at risk of having an accident or feel unsure about their driving ability
  • Cause others to have concerns

If you are unsure if a loved one needs to stop driving, an occupational therapist who has specific training in evaluating drivers who have dementia can help. Also, caregivers can request a driving evaluation from their state Department of Driver Services.

Ways to Encourage Someone to Stop Driving

If a caregiver or the evaluator finds that it is necessary a senior stop driving, they may need some encouragement.

  • Acknowledge their feelings and be understanding about their disappointment
  • Encourage them to try new transportation arrangements
  • Plan trips together for routine errands
  • Focus on the positives (i.e. not paying for gas or car insurance, less stress of driving in traffic, meet more people on public transportation)

Have you had to tell a parent they can no longer drive? How did you know? How did you break the news? Share your tips!

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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