When Dementia Affects Driving
Last updated: February 2023
I have always personally equated my driving privilege with my independence. Quite honestly, many of you reading this may also feel the same way. Driving in some locations is a necessity to get to your medical appointments and grocery shopping.
Dementia and driving
What happens when your or a loved one's dementia and cognitive processing begin to interfere and impair the ability to drive? Both of my parents had Alzheimer's, it was heartbreaking to watch every area of their life become impaired, including driving.
My dad's driving decline
In my parent's case, I noticed things very gradually. I might have even chalked it up to other things. Call it ignorance or denial. I'm not sure which one it was.
All I can say is that for my dad, who drove a truck nationally for a living, it really was devastating to watch the disease process take over. This is a man who knew everything there was about driving. He hauled hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. My dad had won countless safety awards for his driving skills during his career.
Signs of dad's driving decline
Below are some of the various driving deficits that I noticed my dad presenting with as his dementia progressed:
- Driving at an excessively slow rate of speed
- Inability to drive and return home from familiar and routine destinations and errands
- Increased and abnormal levels of confusion and anger when driving
- Erratic changing of lanes
- Consistent non-use of signal blinkers
- Consistent not following the rules of the road, such as running red lights and failing to obey posted traffic signs
- Arriving home much later than normal when running his routine errands
The Dreaded Conversation
No one ever wants to have this conversation with their loved ones when their driving is no longer safe for them or the public. My experience was that the doctors didn't even want to address it.
So, what is one to do? The conversation has to be had. After all, this is a big safety issue for all involved.
Driving rehabilitation therapist
Full disclosure I am an occupational therapist. Driving rehabilitation therapists are often occupational therapists who have continued their education further to specialize in this area of study.
The American Occupational Therapy Association's website defines a driver rehabilitation therapist as an "allied healthcare professional with specialized training, experience, and accreditation in driver rehabilitation services, Including evaluation and training people with disabilities in driving or safe transportation."
Driving safety and dementia
This topic is not talked about nearly enough. I feel like many out there struggle with this issue with their loved ones. That is why I wrote this article. Please know that you are not alone in your struggles.
There are professionals out there who specialize in evaluating driving skills. They are trained not only to evaluate but also how to help guide and initiate this very delicate conversation.
For more information, connect with the American Occupational Therapy Association to find a driving rehabilitation specialist in your area.
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