An elderly man drives a car down a road while the landscape seems to disappear, driving him into nothingness

Driving With Alzheimer's 101

I have Alzheimer's, and I still drive. I told my husband when I was diagnosed that if I encountered problems driving, I would tell him. Did I do that? Maybe not all the time, if I am being totally honest. I stop to pause sometimes before I get in the car - only to think about what I might be getting myself into if I do decide to go out.

Sometimes going someplace is not as bad as coming home. The reason for that is that I might go to a grocery store where it is extremely loud and busy, which overstimulates and confuses me. These situations can escalate in my brain, and I am a little nervous driving home.

Or, I could start out on a very pleasant day, and the weather turns bad, and it is more difficult for me to concentrate in situations like that. That is when I wish I had decided not to venture out that day, but it is too late at that moment.

Sometimes I can see these scenarios before I leave the house. Sometimes my family tells me that it is not a good day to be driving.

No nighttime driving

I stopped driving at night. The visual clues I readily rely on for turns or stops become harder to see. I don't always remember the street names, but I might remember the pink house on the corner is where I am supposed to turn. At night, I can't recognize that pink house.

Also, my concentration level is very low in the evening, so that is another reason I find it hard to drive at night.

Only familiar places

I only drive to familiar places now. It is hard for me to get out of my comfort zone, so I try to stay close to home.

Although my husband would disagree, I have a pretty good sense of direction - I just can't trust my brain that much anymore.

What others have done to mitigate driving

I know many families struggle with taking the keys away from their loved ones with Alzheimer's. Families have told me they have had to develop unique strategies to help them with this situation.  

Some families have disabled the cars in their driveway so they wouldn't start if they tried to drive away. Others have given them keys that won't work, and they tell them they have to find a key. Their loved one usually forgets about even asking for a key.

Some families I know have actually sold their loved one's car and told them it is in the shop for repairs. If they continually ask for the car, they keep telling them they are waiting on parts. Their loved ones eventually forget about driving or forget they can drive at all.

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable

Driving is a hard issue to deal with. Being unable to drive takes independence away from those living with Alzheimer's. Having been diagnosed at a younger age, this is a topic that my family and I have talked about.

It isn't comfortable to talk about, but it isn't comfortable having Alzheimer's, either.

Have you and your family discussed an action plan around driving ability? What did that look like for you? Let us know in the comments below, or share your story.

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