A major concern for most individuals recently diagnosed with dementia – or worried that they will develop dementia eventually – is that their ability to drive themselves will be taken away. Because dementia is progressive, and in many cases progresses very slowly, many people with a diagnosis still have all the necessary skills to drive alone and may not see any immediate need to have their keys taken away. Many individuals will acknowledge the risks of driving with dementia and chose to stop on their own. Others, especially those whose dementia symptoms have progressed quite quickly, may not have the ability to accurately assess their own driving and will resist losing that freedom.
Have your driving skills evaluated immediately following a diagnosis. Find out if you already need to stop driving, and this will also provide you with a benchmark for how your dementia progresses.
Ask For Help
It is important to communicate to anyone who might be joining you in a vehicle how they can help. Asking them to pay attention and ‘co-pilot’, with simple instructions when necessary.
Reduce Reliance on Driving
Now is a good time to start making lifestyle changes, to begin living with dementia. This will mean reducing your need to drive. Perhaps you have family, friends, or caregivers who are able to take you places, or maybe you can change your weekly routines to require less time in the car. Look at alternative services – for example, grocery delivery is a great option for weekly shopping. There may also be services in your local area tailored specifically to seniors.
You and your loved ones should be aware of symptoms that will hinder driving, and make note of how they are progressing:
- Ability to judge distance and space
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Difficulty multi-tasking
- Short-term memory loss
- Alertness to surroundings
- Mood swings and confusion
- Difficulty with problem-solving
The Final Decision
It is important that the individual with dementia is part of the discussion from the beginning. At the time that they finally stop driving, they should be more than capable still of being involved in this decision. When it is left too late, some patients with dementia cannot be easily persuaded to stop driving and family members have to resort to measures such as hiding the car keys or the car itself.
There are many services available to aid seniors who can no longer drive. If this is an upcoming concern for your family, find out what is available in your local areas such as caregiver services, taxis, seniors transport services, and of course nearby friends and family.