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Dementia and Driving: Skills and Safety

When your loved one is living with dementia, it is important to recognize that their decline will inevitably impact driving skills and safety. If possible, it’s best to consider alternatives and have a conversation about relinquishing privileges early-on in the diagnosis, so that you and your loved one have time to come to terms with the upcoming loss of independence.

Memory impairment can impact your loved one’s ability to recognize traffic signs and signals, drive too fast or too slow, or become confused while driving. As dementia progresses and memory impairment worsens, the senses are also affected. Visual agnosia, caused by changes in the brain, may impair the ability to comprehend visual images, although there is nothing physically wrong with the eyes. Also, their sense of perception and depth may be altered. These changes will cause safety concerns – especially when it comes to driving.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers the following signs of unsafe driving as evidence your loved one may need to consider staying off the road: forgetting how to locate familiar places, failing to observe traffic signs and signals, making slow or poor decisions in traffic, driving at an inappropriate speed, and becoming angry or confused when driving.

Losing driving privileges is a huge loss of independence, and will inevitably be an emotional struggle for all parties involved. If diagnosed early enough, families should initiate a conversation with their memory-impaired loved one about driving abilities. If the person living with dementia is on board with maintaining his or her safety — and also the safety of others on the road — she or he will be more likely to accept the revocation of driving privileges. When this time comes, families should offer alternatives, such as helping with transportation for errands and doctor’s appointments, or offering public transportation as an option. Homewatch CareGivers also offers transportation assistance — help from a person outside of the family may be more easily accepted by your loved one. In the event that your loved one becomes angry or combative during this process, remember the 5 Rs.