Safe driving requires attention, concentration, and the ability to follow particular steps and rules. You also need to be able to make quick and appropriate decisions. For people with Alzheimer's disease or other disorders causing dementia, these skills will decline over time. Eventually, driving will not be an option.
The decision to stop driving may be difficult for the person with dementia, caregivers and family members. If you care for someone with dementia, consider these strategies to prioritize safety and ease the transition.
A person with dementia may perceive giving up driving as a loss of independence, and deciding not to drive means accepting that one's abilities are changing. To help a person with decisions about driving:
If possible, have the person with mild dementia sign a driving contract. The contract will give you permission to help him or her stop driving when necessary.
Look for alternatives to driving and begin using them as soon as possible. Even if the person with mild dementia is still driving, you can begin the transition to other transportation options. These may include:
An additional passenger to travel with the person with dementia — to sit in the back seat together and chat — may help with the transition to being a passenger rather than a driver.
People with mild dementia are at a much greater risk of unsafe driving compared with people of the same age without dementia. The American Academy of Neurology recommends that people with mild dementia strongly consider discontinuing driving.
Some people with dementia may decide they no longer want to drive because they are concerned about safety. Others may be reluctant to stop driving, and they may not be aware of a decline in their driving skills.
Regular assessments during office visits may help your doctor identify a decline in abilities that indicate a greater risk. Your doctor may ask for feedback from the person with dementia and a caregiver separately to assess risks. Signs of unsafe driving include:
If the individual with mild dementia has not shown signs of unsafe driving and would like to continue to drive, your physician may recommend a roadside driving evaluation by a professional such as an occupational therapist.
An occupational therapist can evaluate the impact of the disease on a person's ability to drive and offer strategies for driving safely, as well as when and how to reduce or stop driving. The American Occupational Therapy Association has a national database of driving specialists.
State regulations regarding dementia and driving restrictions vary. Your health care provider may be required to report a diagnosis of dementia. The local motor vehicle department can provide information about relevant state guidelines or laws.
If the person living with dementia is unwilling to give up driving, consider these last-resort preventive strategies: