Driving with Dementia

Jul 12, 2021 | Living with Dementia

Your mother with dementia is holding tight onto every thread of independence that she can muster, including her ability to get behind the wheel of the car and drive down the road.

You know it is important to your mother’s mental state to have a sense of autonomy and control, but the driving aspect of this does not sit well with you, especially with her recent history.

Last week, her short run of errands took way too many hours—leaving you terrified for her safety and ready to call the police. Also, what about those new and unexplained deep scratches down the side of her car?

Your mother’s doctor gave her a thumbs up. He said that she can still drive at this point despite her dementia diagnosis.

You are at level zero with ease. When should your mother stop driving, and what can you do?

Start Having Conversations

Start having conversations with your loved one about driving as early as possible in the process and do so with empathy. Involve your loved one in the decision-making.

Talk about safety. Ask your loved one how they can be responsible for their own safety as well as the safety of others.

When your loved one with dementia pushes back at your concerns about their driving, understand that they are not just being stubborn. They may not be aware that their perception is changing.

Ask your loved one to cooperate with you. Explain that as their condition or driving worsens, that they may need to hand the keys over to you.

Involve the doctor in these conversations. You are the one that knows your loved one the best.

If your concern is that they should no longer drive, you may be the catalyst in ensuring their safety through a doctor’s orders to stop driving.

When Driving Should Stop

A dementia diagnosis does not mean that a person should stop driving immediately. Changes in severity can occur gradually, and this means that your loved one with dementia in an early stage may still be able to drive.

The driving behaviors of people with dementia typically include early warning signs. If you can answer yes to any of these questions, it may be time for your loved one to stop driving.

  • Are shorts trips out (errand runs, grocery shopping) prolonged with no explanation? Your loved one may be getting lost in familiar places.
  • Is their judging of distance impaired?
  • Are they hitting curbs, having trouble turning the car, or parking incorrectly?
  • Are they driving in the wrong lanes?
  • Are they signaling improperly?
  • Are they disobeying traffic signs or signals?
  • Are they confusing the brake and the gas pedal?
  • Are they driving at inappropriate speeds (too fast or slow, or completely stopping in moving traffic)?
  • Are they experiencing near misses, car accidents, or are you seeing unexplained scrapes or dents on the car?
  • Are they receiving traffic tickets and increased insurance rates?
  • Are they displaying agitated behavior (which distracts from safe driving practices)?

Transition with Transportation

Going from the ability to drive to not at all is a hard pill for most of us to swallow but transitioning to different forms of transportation can make it much easier on everyone involved.

Ways to make the transportation transition easier:

  • Round up family members or friends to provide rides for errands or appointments
  • Use delivery services for groceries and other necessities
  • Use transportation services provided by community centers, elder care, or the city/county
  • Use taxi or car services (set up a payment account that you manage)

Have a close friend or family member go along with your loved one when they use one of these forms of transportation.

This can help them make the shift from being the driver to the enjoyment of a trip out with someone else at the helm, with great company at their side to boot!

How to Stop Your Loved One from Driving

If you have already had the conversation with your loved one that someday they will no longer be able to drive, know that they may still resist once that day arrives. What do you do?

Your best ally could be the doctor. Dementia patients often put full trust in their doctor, so when he or she writes the orders ‘no more driving’ on the prescription pad, this may end their fight to drive.

Only 12% of the states require physicians to report individuals who are cognitively or medically impaired to the DMV. As a caregiver, you may have to do the reporting yourself. Check with your local DMV for state laws and reporting requirements.

Removal of the license may not stop your loved one from trying to drive. You may need to take the keys or the vehicle away.

Always reinforce that these changes are taking place for safety measures, “I am caring for you. I am keeping you safe. I will help you adapt to these changes.”

You Are Not Alone with This

If you are in the Round Rock/North Austin area, know that you have support resources available for caregivers just like you…people dealing with the same issues that you are. You don’t have to do this alone!

Learn more about group resources and meetings on our blog Round Rock/North Austin Support Groups for Caregivers.

We Are Here to Help

We know that you want the safety and the best care for your loved one, and here at Sundara, we embrace that. If you have questions, we can help! Contact us online or schedule a virtual tour online or by calling us at 512-399-5080.