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Dementia and driving

If your loved one has dementia, deciding when they can no longer drive may be difficult. They may react in different ways.

  • They may be aware they are having problems, and they may be relieved to stop driving.
  • They may feel their independence is being taken away.

Signs That Driving may no Longer be Safe

People with signs of dementia should have regular driving tests. Even if they pass a driving test, they should be retested in 6 months.

If your loved one does not want you getting involved in their driving, get help from their health care provider, lawyer, or other family members.

Even before you see driving problems in someone with dementia, look for signs that the person may not be able to drive safely, such as:

  • Forgetting recent events
  • Mood swings or getting angry more easily
  • Problems doing more than one task at a time
  • Problems judging distance
  • Trouble making decisions and solving problems
  • Becoming confused more easily

Signs that driving may be getting more dangerous include:

  • Getting lost on familiar roads
  • Reacting more slowly in traffic
  • Driving too slowly or stopping for no reason
  • Not noticing or paying attention to traffic signs
  • Taking chances on the road
  • Drifting into other lanes
  • Getting more agitated in traffic
  • Getting scrapes or dents on the car
  • Having trouble parking

Steps to Take

It may help to set limits when driving problems start.

  • Stay off busy roads, or do not drive at times of the day when traffic is heaviest.
  • Do not drive at night when it is hard to see landmarks.
  • Do not drive when the weather is bad.
  • Do not drive long distances.
  • Drive only on roads the person is used to.

Caregivers should try to lessen the person's need to drive without making them feel isolated. Have someone deliver groceries, meals, or prescriptions to their home. Find a barber or hairdresser who will make home visits. Arrange for family and friends to visit and take them out for a few hours at a time.

Plan other ways to get your loved one places. Family members or friends, buses, taxis, and senior transportation services may be available.

As danger to others or to your loved one increases, you may need to prevent them from being able to use the car. Ways to do this include:

  • Hiding the car keys
  • Leaving out car keys that will not start the car
  • Disabling the car so it will not start
  • Selling the car
  • Storing the car away from the home

References

Budson AE, Solomon PR. Life adjustments for memory loss, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia. In: Budson AE, Solomon PR, eds. Memory Loss, Alzheimer's Disease, and Dementia: A Practical Guide for Clinicians. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 25.

Carr DB, O'Neill D. Mobility and safety issues in drivers with dementia. Int Psychogeriatr. 2015;27(10):1613-1622. PMID: 26111454 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26111454.

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    Alzheimer disease - illustration

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    Alzheimer disease

    illustration

  • Alzheimer disease

    Animation

  •  

    Alzheimer disease - Animation

    Imagine waking up this morning, and not being able to remember your own name, or recognize your spouse? While Alzheimer disease is a more gradual process, over time it can destroy memory to the point where people can't even remember the simplest and most important details of their lives. Let's talk more about Alzheimer disease. Alzheimer disease is a type of dementia, a loss of brain function that makes it harder and harder to think and speak. To understand what causes Alzheimer, we need to look inside the brain. In a normal brain, nerves send messages to one another. In people with Alzheimer disease, abnormal proteins clump in the brain, damaging nerve cells so they can no longer send the messages needed to think clearly. So, why do some people get Alzheimer, and others do not? Getting older itself doesn't cause Alzheimer disease. It's not a part of the normal aging process. Alzheimer does seem to run in families, though. So if you have a close relative, like a sister or parent, with Alzheimer, you may be more likely to get the disease. Usually when Alzheimer disease starts, people have trouble remembering simple things, like their phone number, or where they put their car keys. But, as the disease progresses, memory loss gets worse. People with Alzheimer find it hard to have conversations or complete simple tasks, like getting dressed. They can also become angry or depressed. Those in the later stages of the disease can no longer care for themselves. They lose the ability to recognize even close family members. To diagnose Alzheimer disease, doctors prescribe tests of mental ability. They also prescribe medical tests to rule out diseases that can make it harder to think clearly, such as a brain tumor or stroke. As far as treatments for Alzheimer disease, right now, there isn't a cure. A few drugs can slow memory loss and control depression and aggressiveness from the disease. Despite what you may have read, there isn't any proof that vitamins or other supplements can prevent or treat Alzheimer. However, eating a low-fat diet that's high in vitamin E and C, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids may keep your brain healthier. Alzheimer disease is different in each person. Some people decline quickly and die within just a few years, while others can live for two decades with the disease. If you have a family member with Alzheimer, talk to your doctor about ways to protect your own memory. And, call right away if you have any significant memory loss. Though it may be normal forgetfulness that comes with getting older, the sooner you get it checked out, the earlier you can start treatment if you need it.

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Self Care

 
 

Review Date: 4/30/2018

Reviewed By: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, SUNY Stony Brook, School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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