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Alzheimer's and Driving Abilities

Understanding how your ability to drive is changing over time is important to keep you and others around you safe. Losing the independence driving provides can be upsetting, and it may be hard to give up the car keys but you can keep your independence even when you have to stop driving. It may take some planning ahead by you and your family and friends, but that planning will get you to the places you want to go. It may also reduce the stress of driving and worrying of your loved ones.

When is the right time to stop driving?

It's often difficult to decide when to stop or limit driving. Driving demands good judgment, quick reaction times and split-second decision making. As your loved one ages take out the time and ride with them and notice their reactions. It is important for you to witness the indecisions for yourself. You will be able to encourage your loved one that the time has come to let someone else take them to their doctor appointments or run errands for them.

Because Alzheimer's affects each person differently, caregivers and professionals play an important role in observing driving behaviors over time. Behaviors that are not common in everyday driving activities may appear to be normal to someone with Alzheimer's.

Unsafe driving habits may include, forgetting where they were going, driving slower than normal, becoming confused, failing to observe traffic signs, hitting the gas pedal when you should be using the brakes, driving upon the curb. All these signs need to be taking into consideration when encouraging your loved one that it is time to stop driving.

Get outside support

It may help to have a third party, such as a clinician or friend present when having a conversation about driving. This may not only help to defuse any emotions arising out of family dynamics, but may also help identify alternative sources of transportation.

In some states, the physician must report a diagnosis of Alzheimer's to the health department, which then reports it to the department of motor vehicles. That agency then may revoke the person's license. Check with your local Alzheimer's Association for information on driving regulations in your state.

Caregivers often achieve better results by seeking support from professionals outside the family. Healthcare professionals may be more likely to discuss driving issues with a patient if a caregiver has met with him or her privately and shared observations of driving behavior. Ask a doctor to write the person a "do not drive" prescription.

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