According to the Alzheimer’s Association, receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or anther form of dementia doesn’t mean your loved one has to put away the car keys immediately. Some elderly drivers in the early stages of dementia are careful, vigilant, and about ten times safer on the road than a texting teenager.

    Advanced dementia and driving, however, is usually an accident waiting to happen. As an adult care giver, it is your job to be aware of your loved one’s deficits and to make sure that he or she is not starting to engage in dangerous driving practices.

    Although the line between when it’s okay to drive a little longer and when to stop driving can get blurry, if your loved one is engaging in any of the following behaviors, it’s time to intervene.

    When to Stop Driving – Five Warning Signs

    If you are caring for someone with dementia who still drives, be on the lookout for these five signs.

    1. Your Loved One Gets Lost Driving Familiar Routes.

    Let’s be honest, we’ve all spaced out and missed a familiar turn, but if your loved one consistently gets lost on routes he or she should know well, it’s time to start worrying. If you’re in the car, you’ll be able to tell your loved one is lost by the way he or she hesitates at familiar intersections or asks you which direction to go.

    If you’re not in the car, you may notice your loved one showing up late to family functions or not arriving at all. Many people caring for dementia patients have been stunned to receive a call from police in the next town: "We have your mother here; she said she got lost trying to get to the store."

    2. Your Loved One Doesn’t Observe Traffic Signals.

    If your loved one begins driving through red lights or stop signs and stopping at green lights as if unsure of what to do next, he or she is no longer a safe driver and is at risk for causing a serious accident.

    3. Your Loved One Drives Too Slowly.

    Think about how your proceed when driving in an unfamiliar environment. You probably slow way down. You may risk a look at your map or your GPS system, or you may pause at each house or building, trying to ascertain whether or not it is the one you want. To a person driving with dementia, all landscapes are unfamiliar. Too often, the person with advancing dementia drives very slowly as he or she tries–and fails–to get oriented. Driving too slowly may make your loved one a target for others’ road rage and can create unsafe situations if impatient drivers try to pass recklessly.

    4. Your Loved One Returns Home Without the Car.

    This can mean one of two things. Either your loved one lost the car and walked home because he or she couldn’t think what else to do (for instance, call for help), or your loved one forgot he or she started off with the car in the first place. Both of these conclusions point to cognitive problems serious enough to make driving unsafe.

    5. Your loved one becomes confused at intersections.

    Confusion at intersections is often caused by a combination of being lost and of being uncertain about the meaning of traffic signals. Many people who are driving with dementia will pull up to an intersection and simply sit there, overcome by all the options. Worse, some drivers will pull into the middle of the intersection and then become overwhelmed and stop. They may have to be rescued by police or by a Good Samaritan who helps them move the car to the side of the road and contact family.

    How to Stop Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s from Driving

    Some drivers with dementia maintain the insight to know their driving is not safe. The will voluntarily sell the car or surrender the car keys. Unfortunately, by the time driving becomes unsafe, most drivers have lost their self-awareness. They honestly believe they are driving as well as they ever did and that their friends and family are crazy for trying to get them to stop driving. They may become offended at the very idea.

    If your loved one refuses to give in without a fight, there are a few strategies you can use to avoid direct confrontation and put someone else in the role of the "bad guy."

    • Involve your loved one’s doctor. Ask your loved one’s doctor to write a prescription telling your loved one to stop driving. Some people will listen to a doctor–an authority figure–when they won’t listen to an adult child or spouse.
    • If your loved one’s driver’s license is close to expiring, let it expire. He or she will probably be unable to pass the test to get it renewed.
    • Even if your loved one’s driver’s license is not about to expire, you can still call the Department of Motor Vehicles as a concerned citizen and request that they test your loved one’s ability to drive. After testing, the DMV may decide to do nothing, restrict your loved one’s driving privileges, or revoke your loved one’s license outright.
    • Move your loved one’s car out of sight, or temporarily disable it so that it won’t start. Alternatively, you can also hide the car keys. If your loved one asks, explain cheerfully that the car "needs to be fixed," but that you will be glad to drive your loved one wherever he or she wants to go.

    The Days After Driving

    Driving is a symbol of independence in this culture, and many people hit hard emotionally when they must give up their license. You can help make the transition easier by making life without driving as easily as possible on your loved one. Be available to provide transportation to your loved one’s favorite activities, such as bowling, hair appointments and lunch dates. If you can’t provide transportation yourself, arrange for a cab or a wheelchair van to do so.

    It may also help your loved one’s peace of mind to have as many necessities as possible delivered directly to his or her front door. Many pharmacies and grocery stores now offer home delivery for the sake of their older patients.

    Finally, even if your loved one’s transportation needs are met, his or her feelings will probably still be ruffled. Listen empathetically to your loved one’s anger and hurt. Don’t waste your time trying to convince your loved one that taking away the car was the right decision–he or she won’t buy it. Instead, try reflecting your loved one’s feelings. "I hear you that you’re the only one of your friends who can’t drive, Mom, and I know that must be tough." "I don’t blame you for being angry, Dad. If someone told me I had to stop driving, I’d be angry, too."

    Stepping in to stop your loved one from doing something they enjoy like driving takes a lot of courage and conviction. Just remember that, if you see the warning signs that your loved one shouldn’t be driving, your timely intervention could save not just your loved one’s life, but the lives of others as well.

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