The inherent conflicts of dementia and driving

It’s a known fact – as we age, our reflexes slow.   Suddenly, a fastball thrown by your 8-year old grandchild is really fast.

 While hopefully all you’ll get from that baseball is a burn in your hand from catching it, the consequences of slowed reflexes coupled with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia can be much more hazardous – up to and including fatal.

 For people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias - it is never too soon to plan ahead for the future when they can no longer drive. Putting a plan in place can be an empowering way to make the person’s voice heard.  While it’s important to acknowledge a person’s feelings and preserve his or her independence, it’s also paramount to ensure the person’s safety and the safety of others.

 What are some of the signs that it’s time to have this talk?  The person is forgetting how to locate familiar places, failing to observe traffic signs, and making slow or poor decisions while in traffic.

 Having the conversation about giving up driving is rarely easy.  You should be prepared for the person to become upset with you. Empathize with those who are uncomfortable having the conversation and stress the importance of preparing for the future.  You should also be prepared with optional transportation plans for the person who will no longer drive.  You can also reduce the need to drive by having essentials such as groceries, medications and meals delivered.

 If the conversation does not go well, do not blame yourself.  Ask a respected family authority figure or medical professional to reinforce the message about not driving.

 As a last resort, take away the car keys, disable the car or remove the car completely. When you do any of these things, be sure to provide safe, reliable alternative transportation.

 Remember, the sooner you have the “no driving” conversation, the better.  Call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 for more information. 

— Scott Finley, Manager of Media Relations - Alzheimer’s Association: Dallas and Northeast Chapter

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