Driving with Dementia | Phoenix

Dementia Care PhoenixApril happens to be National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and as we’re all aware, distracted driving spans the generations – from texting teens to memory-impaired seniors, and everyone in between.

Remember getting your license to drive? Exhilarating! Exciting! It’s one of those privileges that move you from dependent to independent. Teens celebrate the license to drive like no other privilege. It has been long-considered the passage into adulthood. Yet, driving is a complex activity that demands quick reactions, alert senses and split-second decision-making.

With the advent of technology, vehicles now empower the driver with a higher level of complex tasks; not just the radio and speedometer, but now also with GPS, cell phone connection and numerous more “hands-free” abilities. These conveniences are nice, but they most certainly demand a higher level of awareness, and carry a potential for disaster. For those of us with elder loved ones, it is time to evaluate the risks inherent to all of us on the road. For any person with a memory disorder, driving inevitably becomes difficult, apart from the other distractions inherent to all drivers.

A diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or another memory disorder does not instantly mean a person has lost all ability to drive, though this is an area that loved ones and caregivers should routinely evaluate to determine if driving becomes a safety issue.

The following are some warning signals our clinicians and caregivers educate on and routinely evaluate for in patients with dementia who are behind the wheel.

Warning Signs of Unsafe Driving:

  • Forgetting how to locate a familiar place
  • Failing to observe traffic signals
  • Making slow or poor decisions
  • Driving at an inappropriate speed
  • Becoming angry and confused while driving

For many seniors, restricting driving privileges signifies a loss of independence and mobility, leading them to rely on friends, family, and community services for transportation. This sense of dependence may prevent people with dementia from giving up the car keys. The following tips can help:

  • Ask a doctor to write a “do not drive” prescription
  • Control access to the car keys
  • Disable the car by removing the distributor cap or battery
  • Park the car on another block or in a neighbor’s driveway or garage
  • Have the person tested by the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Arrange for other transportation, such as through a home care agency like Nightingale Homecare
  • Substitute the person’s driver’s license with a photo identification card (in addition to making the car inaccessible)

If you find yourself getting frustrated when discussing driving with a senior loved one, put yourself in his or her shoes. Recall the freedom and exhilaration you experienced when you first obtained your driving license. That feeling was the same for your loved one. Consider the loss of your license, coupled with the loss of other function and wellbeing. For most of us, that is unimaginable. Be sensitive, compassionate, and supportive during this transition, when the person may feel angry and depressed.

Nightingale Homecare provides Arizona home health care that includes friendly, compassionate transportation and accompaniment for seniors who are no longer able to drive, allowing them to get out and enjoy activities, run errands, get to their doctor appointments and sometimes just experience the mere joy of taking a road trip. Contact us at 602-504-1555 and help your senior loved one enjoy life to the fullest!