Dementia and Driving: Guide to a Tough Conversation

Dementia and Driving: Guide to a Tough Conversation

Is it time for your loved one with dementia to stop driving? At some point, you will need to have that important conversation on dementia and driving safety with your loved one. While these conversations vary, they all share one commonality: they are difficult. 

Regardless of the emotions, your loved one's safety should always be a priority over everything else, including their need for independence. To help you navigate through this challenging decision, the team at Long Island Alzheimer's & Dementia (LIAD) Center has created a helpful guide. Continue reading to learn more and don't hesitate to reach out to the team at Long Island Alzheimer's & Dementia Center for support and guidance.

6 Warning Signs of Dementia-related Driving Safety Concerns

The term dementia describes a set of symptoms such as reduced visual perception, trouble thinking, solving problems, and remembering things including daily tasks. These symptoms are commonly seen in individuals living with memory loss

Dementia can also affect your loved one's motor skills and ability to perform simple or routine activities such as driving. Paying close attention to their behavioral changes can help you spot and know when it's time to intervene. Here are a few tell-tale signs that it may be time to intervene:

  • Slow response time
  • Difficulty judging distance and space
  • Trouble remembering road rules
  • Reduced reasoning abilities
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Sudden aggressiveness or road rage
  • Recent minor accidents or traffic tickets
  • Failing a road/behind-the-wheel driving test
  • Getting lost in familiar places or showing up somewhere strange

Facilitating the Dementia and Driving Discussion with a Loved One

While dementia progresses differently in each individual, there is a general belief that a dementia diagnosis is enough to stop driving. On the other hand, independence and self-confidence help increase the quality of life of those living with the condition. So, it's a balancing act. If you think it's time to encourage your family member to retire from driving, you can consider the following tips.

Offer Your Loved One with Dementia a Helping Hand

Instead of saying "You need to stop driving," offer to help drive them to their destination and explain why. Tell your family member that doctors recommend that those diagnosed with dementia should consider being chauffeured instead of driving themselves. 

Remind them that your recommendation is based on safety hazards such as forgetting traffic rules or geographic locations. They themselves might recognize their driving abilities are not like they used to be. 

Assure them another relative or close friend could step in and help at times when you're unavailable. Seeing others chipping in may make your family member feel everyone is on the same page.

Recommend Alternative Transportation Options

Let your loved one know there are many senior transportation services designed to offer them the assistance they need. Whether it's Uber, Lyft, or any other transportation service, there are safe alternatives designed to get them where they need to be, such as Dr appointments, the grocery store, and other locations. 

In fact, explain that grocery shopping can be done online, and that the goods will be delivered right at their door. Remember, you may need to show them how to use the computer or smartphone to shop online or request a car service. 

LIAD's Transportation Options

Fortunately for you and your loved one, the LIAD Center offers transportation for program participants who live within the area and who attend our social adult day programs. Our 16-passenger, wheelchair accessible buses are operated by our dementia-trained drivers and accompanied by our program assistants. 

Ask Your Loved One How They Feel About Retiring from Driving

Giving up driving freedom, especially after a lifetime of driving themselves, is a major change. Encourage your family member to tell you how they feel. They may be shocked, upset, angry, or frustrated at your suggestion to stop driving. They may even accuse you of trying to take away their freedom. This is normal. But allowing them to have their say may make them feel involved in the decision and better about themselves.

Ask Their Physician to Broach the Subject

How would you feel if you thought someone was attempting to take away the physical manifestation of your independence? For most seniors and others, a driver's license and the ability to drive is just that. 

With that being explained, you shouldn't expect your loved one to readily agree to give up driving. Advice from an "unbiased" person may be the key to getting them on board. If they are reluctant to talk about retiring from driving, ask their physician or health care professional to bring up the subject of driving safety and dementia.

Don't Be Afraid or Ashamed to Ask for Additional Help

Trying to convince someone with dementia to stop driving is walking a thin line. Knowing when to step in and what to say requires you to be sensitive to your family member's needs for independence. You may risk upsetting or alienating them if you make the call too early or take the wrong approach. On the other hand, their health and safety continue to be at risk the longer the conversation is on hold. Hopefully, these tips are useful in helping you navigate through this challenge.

Contact Long Island Alzheimer's & Dementia Center for Support

When it comes to discussing dementia and driving with a loved one, you are not alone. In fact, you have an entire team of support at the Long Island Alzheimer's & Dementia Center. Our Caregiver Support Groups and counseling services are designed to help caregivers like you and family members cope with difficulties caring for their loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. We also have other programs aimed at helping to improve the quality of life of those affected by dementia. 

Contact Long Island Alzheimer's & Dementia Center today to learn more by visiting www.lidementia.org or call (516) 767-6856.

About the Author Grace Johnson

Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), State of New York Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease or dementia?