Dementia and driving is one of the most difficult topics you will discuss with our family member.
Driving means independence and freedom to the aging senior. Of course, as we get older aging can affect our ability to drive safely. Changes in the;
Flexibility of the joints
Slower response time
And cognitive changes must be considered when driving.
It is hard for many seniors to accept the fact that driving is a privilege and comes with responsibility. It is important to be aware of the limitations and changes in your driving skills.
The cognitive changes that occur with dementia may occur slowly over time. These changes affect the ability to drive safely.
Many individuals with dementia try to overcompensate for their poor driving habits. They hide them from their family members. They will hide their periods of forgetfulness or confusion. Some hide the increase in driving accidents. There may be a period of time when there will be more traffic warnings or tickets.
The car may have more scratches and dents. There may be discussions about the “close calls” that have occurred.
Have a family member diagnosed with dementia?
Ongoing conversations on driving and when it will be time to give up the keys should be addressed.
It is important to have this conversation early. Make them aware that their driving be monitored on a regular basis. An individual with early stages of dementia should be professionally assessed. And then evaluated on a regular basis.
AAA has a self-assessment senior driving quiz that can be taken online. This program can assess an individual’s skills and identify areas needing improvement. Recommendations will be made to address your driving skills that need improving.
There are other programs, online and in the community that will assess senior’s skills. And make recommendations to allow a person to drive safely as long as possible.
The most difficult time is for a person to accept that they may have to give up the keys to the car. Giving up the car keys means the loss of many things to the aging senior.
For many, giving up the car keys may mean:
• Becoming dependent on others
• Or social isolation
• Or a major change in lifestyle.
The world may appear smaller to the senior that is active and independent.
Many seniors will hold on to this independence even if they are a hazard to themselves or the public.
Some seniors will begin to make changes to their driving due to normal aging changes. Nighttime driving is decreased because night vision becomes poor. Some will only drive on familiar roads. Avoid highway driving or avoiding heavy traffic times.
Many seniors and their family members live in denial about when is the right time to stop driving.
More on Dementia and Driving…
Have a discussion with your health care professional about driving evaluations. Investigate the laws for your state by contacting the Department of Motor Vehicles. Are there rules or regulations requiring retesting at a certain age? Is there a limited license regulation that affects nighttime driving?
Incentives to get the senior to take a seniors driving program may include… discounts on insurance premiums.
The most important thing to address before it is time to stop driving is… how life will change and be different without a car.
Have alternative arrangements in place to address
Medical appointments etc.
Remember, that many seniors do not want to be dependent on others.
There are times when you may be forced to take away the keys from an uncooperative senior. It is difficult to feel like you are “parenting” your parent. It is your responsibility to protect the unsuspecting public from an unsafe driver. There are times when.. a family member may have to notify the authorities to take away the license of an unsafe driver.
Losing the ability to drive is devastating to most seniors. Knowing this will help a family member to plan and address driving and the issues of when to stop driving.