Driving with Alzheimer’s Disease

Today more than 6 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and this total is project to increase to 13.9 million by 2060. For the family of a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is common to be faced with the all-important question of Alzheimer’s driver safety.

It’s difficult to decide when someone with dementia should stop driving, since you need to balance safety considerations with the person’s sense of independence, pride and control. Most information about dementia warns against driving, but doesn’t help determine *when* it should stop.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, many people usually are still socially engaged and able to manage daily activities – including safe driving. However, all people living with Alzheimer’s will eventually become unsafe to drive because of the degenerative, progressive nature of the brain disease. The question is: at what point is someone unable to continue to drive safely?

Top Considerations for Family and Friends

Consider the frequency and severity of the following warning signs. Several minor incidents or an unusual, major incident may warrant action. Look for patterns of change over time.

Alzheimer's Driver Warning Signs

Top Warning Signs 
1. Easily distracted while driving7. Increased agitation when driving
2. Hitting curbs8. New scrapes or dents on the car
3. Failure to notice traffic signs9. Drifting out of lane
4. Trouble navigating turns, esp. left turns10. Moving violations/tickets
5. Stopping in traffic for no apparent reason11. Getting lost in familiar places
6. Driving at inappropriate (much too slow or fast) speeds12. Confusing the gas and brake pedals

Advice from Experienced Caregivers

Caregivers who have wrestled with Alzheimer’s driving and transportation issues offer the following tips:

  1. Every situation is unique. Consider the personality and the abilities of the person with dementia when making decisions throughout the course of the disease.
  2. Begin discussions early, and include the person living with Alzheimer’s.
  3. Base decisions on driving behavior observed over a period of time.
  4. Get support when making decisions and implementing changes.

Health care professionals, attorneys, case managers, financial planners and local Alzheimer’s support groups can provide information and perspective to reinforce the family’s efforts – helping to ensure that the person with dementia gets the best support.

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