Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly breaks down and destroys memory and thinking skills. Over time, those living with the disease have trouble making decisions, reacting quickly, following directions, remembering familiar places, and sometimes interpreting the things they see. As you might expect, a driver with a diminished capacity in any one of those areas puts themselves and others at risk, and unfortunately, there are often multiple symptoms of Alzheimer’s impacting the person at the same time. Two challenging considerations are 1) when to stop driving and 2) how to have that conversation with a loved one.

When is the Right Time

The challenge of deciding when to stop driving is often more complicated at early onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms because the person may appear to demonstrate little diminished capacity. At the same time, if you are worried, it can be much easier to have this conversation sooner rather than later when your loved one has a better chance of understanding your concerns and that driving is not safe for themselves and others. It also allows your loved one to get involved in the plan for an eventual retirement from driving. There are clues you can look for that indicate driving is becoming unsafe:

  • Failing to observe traffic signs
  • Delayed responses to unexpected situations
  • Straying from the driving lane
  • Getting lost on the way to familiar places
  • Having frequent close calls or minor accidents
  • Becoming agitated or confused while driving
  • Confusing the brake and gas pedals
  • Decreased confidence while driving or disinterest in driving

Tips for Having the Conversation

Empathy is so important as this conversation can be viewed as an attack on someone’s independence. It’s not hard to imagine how emotionally difficult losing the ability to drive, after decades of doing it, can be on someone. Here are some tips on navigating this conversation:

  • Be honest about your concerns for their safety
  • Have a plan and/or discuss ways to gradually reduce the need to drive over time. For example, start by eliminating highway driving; lean on family and friends to provide rides; use delivery services for groceries
  • If you receive push back, it can helpful to get a primary care doctor involved in the conversation or arrange a driving evaluation from an authorized party, such as an occupational therapist
  • Be careful with suggesting public transportation; if your loved one has trouble navigating while out in public, it can be easy for them to get lost
  • As a last resort, if there is no convincing your loved one, you can try hiding the keys, substituting a different set that won’t start the car, or disabling the car so that it won’t start

As Alzheimer’s progresses, the safety of the impacted person becomes more and more important because they will gradually lose the ability to determine what actions put themselves and others at harm. Providing safe supervision, assistance with transportation, and participation in meaningful activities are elements of our Alzheimer’s and Dementia care. If you would like to discuss care for your loved one, you can reach us at (203) 542-2808.