Handling the Dilemma of Driving with Dementia

March 7, 2018

Few people ever expect to give up their car keys, yet sadly, many older Americans have no choice. Moderate to severe forms of dementia can make the day you give up driving inevitable.

It may come as no surprise that approximately 5 million Americans currently have dementia.  Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and can have profound effects. One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Dementia is memory loss which typically worsens over time. As it progresses, dementia affects not only memory, but also judgment, reaction time, and the ability to multitask, such as switching lanes while noticing what is ahead on the road.

“A person with dementia behind the wheel of a vehicle can be equivalent to that person having a loaded weapon” said Dr. Sam Gandy, Associate Director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. News reports of elderly drivers plowing through crowds of bystanders are some of the worst case scenarios of failing to acknowledge this problem. The evidence is clear: people with advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Dementia should not be getting behind the wheel of a car.

Red Flags

Some warning signs that a person may sensing apprehension and no longer be capable of driving include:

  • The desire to drive fewer miles
  • Avoiding driving at night
  • Avoiding driving in the rain
  • Getting moving violations
  • Frequent collisions
  • Forgetting how to locate familiar places
  • Making slow or poor decisions in traffic
  • Becoming angry or confused while driving
  • Failing to observe traffic signs and traffic lights
  • Driving at an inappropriate speed (either too fast or too slow)

Coping with Change

Telling a person with dementia that they are no longer allowed to drive can be very difficult. It is like trying to take away a drunken person’s keys by explaining to them that they cannot drive because they are impaired. The very nature of their impairment makes it close to impossible for the individual to understand why they cannot operate a motor vehicle.

Often a person may not want to give up driving because of the negative social implications. Driving symbolizes a sense of freedom and self-reliance. Many people do not want stop driving because it reminds them of their youth. Thus, giving up driving can be a traumatic life event, similar to moving to a nursing home or losing a spouse. It is crucial to help people in this situation with genuine empathy and possibly employ the help of social workers and psychologists.

In some cases, for people with mild forms of dementia and other cognitive impairments that do not affect driving ability, it may be inappropriate to take away driving privileges. However, for those people that are truly a danger to themselves and others, it is crucial to implement an alternate transportation plan. Independent Transportation Network is a non-profit organization that arranges rides for the elderly in dozens of communities across the country. Rides are generally cheaper than cab fare and volunteer drivers are rewarded for their time. Family and friends can also chip in to give rides, not just for doctor’s appointments but for social events and entertainment. It is important that the non-driving elder can rely on a range of sources for transportation to avoid feelings of helplessness and lighten the load on any one driver.

Actions You Can Take

Florida allows anyone with knowledge of a licensed driver’s physical or mental driving impairment to submit a report to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). After notifying the driver, the DHSMV investigates the report and takes action if necessary. The law provides that no report can be used as evidence in any criminal or civil trial or proceeding, and anonymity is available. In other cases the use of a Preneed guardianship or letter of agreement may be beneficial to certain drivers with dementia. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia and have legal questions, contact us today at (954) 251-0332 or info@ocestatelawyers.com.