One of the big changes for individuals as they age is the question of continuing to drive. When is the right time to stop?
Not being able to drive is a big change in an individual’s life, particularly when you know the change is going to be permanent. Giving up your driver’s license might be obvious after a physical diagnosis that makes it impossible to drive but what about after a dementia diagnosis? When is it the right time to stop driving?
This is a question to discuss early on before the disease makes those kinds of discussions difficult.
Some individuals with dementia have issues with depth perception. This means while they are driving they may not know how much space there should be between them and the car ahead of them. They may also have difficult judging the speed at which they should be travelling.
Having good judgment is essential while driving. You need to be able to interpret what other drivers are doing and judge distances, speeds, when to go, where to go etc. Memory is also important, as they need to remember what signs mean and directions. Drivers need to be able to concentrate and be able to act quickly.
Driving is associated with freedom and independence, so losing driving privileges is difficult. Dementia progresses differently for different people, so the point when it becomes unsafe to drive will be different for everyone. However, usually those with moderate to severe dementia should not drive. Some individuals may continue driving in the early or mild stages of dementia, though it is a good idea that they are not left to drive alone.
Eight signs that Mom or Dad should not drive.
Here are eight signs from everyday behaviour that should raise concerns about your mom or dad continuing to drive.
- Trouble judging time and distances. You may notice that they do not know what time dinner is at or that they are bumping into furniture.
- Less coordinated than before. You may notice that they have difficulty pouring their coffee or unlocking the door to their home.
- Get lost or feel disoriented You may notice that your mom or dad is disoriented when they come to visit, and they forget where the bathroom is.
- Trouble multi-tasking. Your mom or dad may have trouble doing more than one task at a time. For example, they may have difficulty carrying on a conversation while preparing dinner. You are looking for a change in condition, so if they were always a lousy multi-tasker don’t take only this factor into account.
- Experience mood swings Your mom or dad may be happy one moment and then really sad or angry the next. The mood swings may occur without a reason, or the reaction is excessive to the event.
- Not very alert. Your mom or dad may just seem a little distant or dazed. They don’t really pay attention to conversations or to what is happening around them.
- Difficulties problem-solving and making decisions. This really goes to the exercise of good judgment. Exercising judgment is critical for driving safely, so when your mom or dad starts to show difficulty in this area, red flags should be raised.
- Finally, they are experiencing memory issues .
If you are concerned about your mom or dad’s ability to drive, you can have them evaluated for driving. Dementia symptoms get worse as time goes on, so if they pass the test they should be tested again in six months’ time.
Once you begin to see these behaviour signs, their driving should be supervised to prevent something from happening. This may mean that their spouse should accompany them when they drive, or that they should limit their driving to when there is daylight and to non-rush hour times of the day.
Eleven Driving Behaviours that are warning signs.
It is important to discuss with your mom or dad some of the warning signs that it is time to give up driving. Passengers may also notice telltale signs during driving that it is time to stop or re-evaluate.
If you see that your mom or dad:
- gets drowsy while driving;
- shows bad judgment about entering or exiting roadways;
- drives below the speed limit;
- does not park correctly;
- gets into accidents or narrowly misses having accidents;
- becomes more worried in the car;
- is having vison issues such as not seeing other cars or pedestrians;
- is having difficulty turning the vehicle;
- does not signal at the right times or does not signal at all;
- becomes lost on familiar routes, or
- stops without cause or ignores traffic signs;
You should be reviewing their driving.
If possible, discuss driving with your mom or dad. Ask them how they are feeling about it. They may have scared themselves with a near miss and be ready to talk about changes to driving. Ease the transition from driving to not driving. For example, start driving with limitations. Drive only on routes that are familiar, not driving during busy times or in rush hour traffic, and not driving in bad weather and at night. This can help make the change easier.
As well, limit the need for driving. Walk to places that are close by or get people and services to come to them instead.
If giving up driving is too difficult for the individual to accept, more drastic measures may be necessary for their safety and the safety of others.
Caregivers can hide the car keys or replace them with some that will not turn the car on. You can also sell the car or keep it out of sight in the garage. Ideally you should come to a joint decision on giving up the car, but occasionally that is not possible.
Do you need help in the area of Dementia Care? Check out this available resource: Fit Minds – Enable Family Caregiver Program
Nicole has trained hundreds of professional and family caregivers who have touched the lives of thousands of individuals living with a cognitive impairment. Nicole also holds a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Master’s in Law from Queen’s University specializing in Negotiations and is a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging.