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Your Loved One With Alzheimer's Can't Drive -- Now What?

Alzheimer's and Driving: Taking Action

Explaining to the person with Alzheimer's disease that he or she can no longer drive can be extremely difficult. Loss of driving privileges may represent a tremendous loss of independence, freedom, and identity. It is a significant concern for the person with Alzheimer's disease and the caregiver. The issue of not driving may produce anger, denial, and grief in the person with Alzheimer's disease, as well as guilt and anxiety in the caregiver. Family and concerned professionals need to be both sensitive and firm and above all, they should be persistent and consistent.
The doctor of a person with Alzheimer's disease can assist the family with the task of restricting driving. Talk with the doctor about your concerns. Most people will listen to their doctor. Ask the doctor to advise the person with Alzheimer's disease to reduce his or her driving, go for a driving evaluation or test, or stop driving altogether. An increasing number of states have laws requiring physicians to report Alzheimer's disease and related disorders to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Department of Motor Vehicles is then responsible for retesting the at-risk driver. Testing should occur regularly, at least yearly.
When dementia impairs driving and the person with Alzheimer's disease continues to insist on driving, a number of different approaches may be necessary. These approaches can include:
  • Working as a team with family, friends, and professionals and using a single, simple explanation for the loss of driving ability.
  • Having the doctor write "DO NOT DRIVE" on a prescription pad. You can also ask the doctor to write to the Department of Motor Vehicles or Department of Public Safety saying this person should no longer drive. Show the letter to the person with Alzheimer's disease as evidence.
  • Offering to drive.
  • Walking when possible, and making these outings special events.
  • Using public transportation or any special transportation provided by community organizations. Ask about senior discounts or transportation coupons. The person with Alzheimer's disease should not take public transportation unsupervised.
  • Parking the car at a friend's home.
  • Hiding the car keys.
  • Exchanging car keys with a set of unusable keys. Some people with Alzheimer's disease are in the habit of carrying keys.
  • Placing a large note under the car hood requesting that any mechanic call you before doing work requested by the person with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Having a mechanic install a "kill switch" or alarm system that disengages the fuel line to prevent the car from starting.
  • Considering selling the car and putting aside the money saved from insurance, repairs, and gasoline for taxi funds.
  • Not leaving a person with Alzheimer's disease alone in a parked car.
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