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An older woman sits in her car looking at the keys in her hand, outside the window a winding road extends and butterflies are flying

Driving With Alzheimer's 101: Is It Time to Hand Over the Keys?

There are many factors to consider while trying to decide about a loved one with Alzheimer's continuing to drive. Besides the actual mechanics of driving, there are legal issues as far as driving is concerned.

Doctors sometimes advocate for those with an Alzheimer's diagnosis to stop driving. In fact, in some states, doctors must report an individual with dementia to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). That person would then be subject to an independent driving evaluation to determine whether they can drive or not. Every state is different.

Tools and proper safety

Upon my diagnosis, the doctor was not required to do that, and I still drive. I associate freedom and independence with driving. Although I have made many modifications to my driving based on my diagnosis, it is important for me to keep this as part of my life as long as I can.

I proceed with caution and re-evaluate my capabilities regularly. I keep something in my glove compartment with my emergency contact information in case of an incident.

And, having a GPS on your car is not a bad idea so your family can know where you are.

Observing for certain behaviors

Families can sometimes assess a loved one's capability of driving by observing certain behaviors.

Some things to look out for are reaction times, depth perception, coordination, alertness, time processing new information, and difficulty multi-tasking.

I know some families that have been able to show some of these deficits to their loved ones in other ways, and they will say to them, "Oh no, what if this had happened to you while you were driving - you would have hurt someone or yourself."

A neutral, outside perspective

Sometimes it takes someone outside the family to convince a loved one not to drive.

One family I knew asked a family friend to talk to their affected driver, and he told them he had seen him driving and was really fearful for him.

Alzheimer's patients sometimes become paranoid of family members, and having someone outside of the family represent them can assist in certain situations.

Evaluting driving safety with Alzheimer's

There is also an independent driving evaluation that can be done. If you can find someone in your area to do this - our local hospital offers this service for a fee.

Please let the person giving the evaluation know that your loved one suffers from dementia. You can tell your loved one that they have to take a test to renew their license if they are going to drive.

If they fail the individual driving evaluation, their license will be terminated, and they will have to stop driving. If your loved one passes the test, it would be wise to redo it every 6 months.

Safety driving course

Another family informed me they asked their loved one to come along with them to a safety driving course. The person with dementia could see for themselves that they were not able to act responsibly behind the wheel and voluntarily gave up their keys.

Driving safety with Alzheimer's

The decision to drive or not to drive with Alzheimer's is one not to take lightly. It can be difficult, but you must find a way to address the issue the best way you can.

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