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Dementia Helping Hand

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When it comes to the topic of driving with dementia, there are some commonly asked questions such as how to know when it’s time. This post addresses a few of those questions.

Older man driving car with pair of glasses in his hand

I’m back with another suggestion of things to do as a caregiver of your loved one with dementia. This time, I’m talking about driving. Particularly – be your loved one’s transportation. 

mom's driving issues

I don’t remember the exact moment when Mom started having problems driving. She didn’t have any accidents or tickets. It wasn’t sudden either. It was more a gradual build-up.

What I did notice were the comments she would make. For example, 

  • I don’t remember that being there. Has it always been there?

  • Where’s Kohl’s?

  • I don’t remember where Dr. So and So’s office is anymore? Where is it?

She was always amazed at how long semi-trucks were and every time she saw one she would make the same comment.

There was a time when she had driven in the rain (by herself) and later told me she hadn’t been able to figure out how to turn on the defroster.

When I rode with her, she would pull into a parking space somewhere or the garage and just turn the car off! Without putting it into park. That made me very nervous.

She made a lane change without checking to see if it was clear to do so. That was scary.

Another time, she got lost while driving back home from where I used to live. You can read more about that here. That was especially worrisome as Mom was always the navigator when my family went on trips. For her to get lost on a route she had been on many times before was out of character for her.

can you still drive if you have dementia?

Yes, people do still drive when they have dementia. Mom was driving for 2 years after her diagnosis of MCI until my brothers and I finally put an end to it.  

The better question to ask is — Should one still drive if they have dementia?

According to Debbie Ricker in her book, Dementia & Driving, “there are over 5.8 million Americans living with dementia and an estimated 30-40% still drive.”

When you think about it, almost 2 million drivers are out there driving along with you and I that have dementia. Does that not scare you? It does me.

If there has been an official diagnosis of dementia contact the local bureau of motor vehicles to see what regulations there are and contact the auto insurance company.

Depending upon the state, if there has been an official recorded diagnosis of dementia and your loved one with dementia causes an accident, there could potentially be a liability issue.

how do you know when your loved one with dementia should stop driving?

In my opinion, if you are wondering this, then it’s probably time because there must be something you are noticing that makes you question it.

This is the 9th suggestion in my list of l9 suggestions to start today if you are a caregiver for a loved one with dementia. You can find the other 18 suggestions by clicking on the link below.

With my mom, what tipped the scale was when she tried to make the lane change and almost hit another car. That’s when I knew that it was time to tell her no more driving.

You may start to notice unexplained dents, scratches, scrapes on the car.

If you pay attention to the mileage you might notice large amounts of mileage being added to the car even though you thought your loved one was just making a short trip to the store.

A routine trip took much more time than it should have.

What does your loved one do at stop signs and traffic lights? Do they follow the signs?

Forgetting how to find places like my mom who had lived in the same city since high school – over 60 years.

Pay attention to the way your loved one moves. How does the person walk, stand up, sit down? How does he/she get in and out of the car? Do they shuffle their feet? Can they lift up their foot to step up onto a curb? Would they be able to quickly move the foot from the gas to the brake pedal?

Can your loved one move their head around – can they look over their left and right shoulder?

How is the hearing? Can they hear high-pitched sounds like sirens?

Do they see things coming at them from the side such as a pedestrian or a bicyclist?

Are they driving within posted speed limits? Do they stay in the correct lane? Do they get too close to the curb?

how does dementia affect driving

Check out this article that appeared recently in my local newspaper. You can see how it affected this man’s driving. A routine trip to take his truck in for service, which he’d probably done many times in the past, and he ended up hundreds of miles away without any knowledge that he had done so, even stopping to get gas several times!

In the case of driving, dementia affects –

  • Memory

  • Concentration

  • Focus & attention

  • Critical Thinking

  • Judgment

  • Decision Making

  • Reasoning

  • Insight

  • Depth Perception

  • Visual-Spatial orientation

  • Peripheral Vision

  • Reaction times

man driving in car holding his glasses

how do you stop a dementia patient from driving?

First, check with your state bureau of motor vehicles. See if there are any regulations or ways to prohibit a loved one from driving due to a medical reason.

Prior to one of Mom’s visits to her doctor, I emailed the doctor to see if he would bring up the topic of driving and to tell her that she should not be driving any longer.

You could do such things as –

  • Hide the keys and give them a dummy set of keys

  • Take out the alternator

  • Disconnect the battery

  • If you do either of the above make sure if the car goes to the repair shop that the shop knows that the car should not be fixed.

  • Move the car to an undisclosed location

Be cautious about selling the car. Note that you cannot just sell a car outright from under your loved one if their name is on the title. It would be good if you, as the family caregiver, also had your name on the title.

how to tell your loved one with dementia he/she can't drive anymore

This will be tough. You are going to be taking something away from them that they have been doing for years. It’s their freedom. It gives them independence.

If you’re lucky the person will know they have difficulty and will voluntarily give up driving.

So how do you approach those that don’t want to stop driving? Watch this short clip from Teepa Snow. Listen to the word choices she uses and how she gets the man to agree with her.

When you’re trying to decide if it’s time for your loved one to stop driving you could use this to help. Debbie Ricker points out “Driving is a privilege – not a right.”

She goes on to say “We are not entitled to drive – we must demonstrate safe driving or retire from driving.”

Can your loved one demonstrate safe driving?

I’ve also read this – Would you trust your loved one with dementia to drive a vehicle with your children in the car?

If it’s time to put a stop to the driving then be ready to be your loved one’s transportation. That and/or find other ways of getting them places.