One of the most contentious issues many individuals with early dementia and their caregivers face is driving. Although some earlystage people can still drive safely for a while, it is inevitable that the day will come when it’s time to give up those car keys. Traumatic? Yes, for both drivers with dementia and their caregivers, not only because of safety issues but also because of what driving can actually represent — independence, competence, freedom, control, and even just sheer enjoyment. And for many people, driving is one of the most important means of staying connected with “the outside world.”
I am often asked by my clients what effect dementia actually has on an early-stage person’s ability to drive. Although Alzheimer’s affects each individual differently, people with the disease will eventually lose the ability to drive safely as hand-eye coordination suffers, perception changes, reaction time becomes slower, and spatial skills are impaired. As their driving skills begin to gradually change, they might find that they are getting lost in familiar neighborhoods or they have trouble taking the right exit or staying in the proper lane. Their ability to judge distances becomes compromised, often leading to the appearance of those numerous unexplained scrapes and dents on car fenders. Drivers with early dementia may not be able to stop suddenly, or they may fail to stop at red lights or stop signs altogether. Nighttime driving also becomes more confusing and problematic. Needless to say, these are definite warning signs that should not be ignored or explained away by either drivers with dementia or their caregivers. Please remember that these drivers are putting not only themselves but everyone else on the road at great risk.
What are some of the things caregivers can do to help earlystage individuals determine whether or not they are still safe drivers? Begin by talking openly about your concerns and encourage the person you’re caring for to do the same, knowing that this is not an easy situation to resolve. The Hartford Financial Services Group (www.thehartford.com/alzheimer’s) has published a booklet called, At The Crossroads: Family Conversations About Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia & Driving, which contains many helpful tips for caregivers including keeping a written record of observed driving behavior over time. Caregivers should also talk openly about the driving issue with the earlystage person’s physician, and ensure that the doctor is checking regularly for problems that could affect driving skills. It’s also a good idea to have the early-stage driver take a twice-yearly driving test to be certain that they are still safe on the road.
If you have an early-stage diagnosis, or you are the caregiver for someone with early dementia and you would like to know more about advocacy opportunities, please contact me at 646-744-2911 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Arrival for early-stage Individuals, their caregivers, and professionals
Living Your Best With Early Stage Alzheimer’s: An Essential Guide
Author: Lisa Snyder, MSW, LCSW
A practical guide to coping with the diagnosis, effectively managing symptoms, finding meaningful activities, planning for the future, maintaining hope and humor, participating in research and much more. This book provides invaluable wisdom and tips from people with Alzheimer’s and is a must-read for individuals with early Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Copies of the book are available by contacting Sunrise River Press, North Branch, Minnesota (phone: 651-277-1400 or www.sunriseriverpress.com) or at www.amazon.com.