Being in the Driver’s Seat: Making Decisions about Driving and Dementia


Driving is a complex activity that requires quick thinking and reactions, as well as good perceptual abilities. For the person with Alzheimer’s disease, driving becomes a safety issue. While he or she may not recognize that changes in cognitive and sensory skills impair driving abilities, you and other family members will need to be firm, but sensitive, in your efforts to prevent the person from driving when the time comes.

How do you know when the time has come?

Signs of unsafe driving include:
• Forgetting how to locate familiar places
• Failing to observe traffic signs
• Making slow or poor decisions in traffic
• Driving at an inappropriate speed
• Becoming angry or confused while driving

Keep a written record of your observations to share with the person, family members and health care professionals.
Tips to limit driving
Once it’s clear the person with dementia can no longer drive safely, you’ll need to get him or her out from behind the wheel as soon as possible. If possible, involve the person with dementia in the decision to stop driving. Explain your concerns about his or her unsafe driving, giving specific examples, and ask the person to voluntarily stop driving. Assure the person that a ride will be available if he or she needs to go somewhere.

Other tips to discourage driving include:

• Transition driving responsibilities to others. Tell the person you can drive, arrange for someone else to drive, or arrange a taxi service or special transportation services for older adults.

• Find ways to reduce the person’s need to drive. Have prescription medicines, groceries or meals delivered.

• Ask a respected family authority figure or your attorney to reinforce the message about not driving.

• Experiment with ways to distract the person from driving.

What if the person won’t stop?
If the person insists on driving, take these steps as a last resort:
• Control access to the car keys. Designate one person who will do all the driving and give that individual exclusive access to the car keys.

• Disable the car.

• Consider selling the car. .

• Alert the department of motor vehicles.

Want to learn more about dementia and driving? Check out the Alzheimer’s Association’s Dementia and Driving Resource Center here. Take a peek at the video below which depicts a family making decision about driving.


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