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Giving up driving

Driving must be stopped immediately if safety is at risk. Signs that a person’s driving abilities are declining include:

  • Slow response times
  • Traffic violations
  • Collisions
  • Taking too much time to reach a destination
  • Not reaching the destination at all.

People vary in their reactions to driving restrictions. They may immediately accept the idea or may strongly resist it. It may be easier for them to accept the decision if it comes from someone objective.

Acknowledge that it may not be an easy decision to make. Offer alternatives right away, such as looking at the bus schedule together or looking online at websites that offer products or services needed, such as online banking. Point out the benefits:

  • Money saved on parking and gas
  • Less worry and stress about remembering how to drive places
  • Increased exercise if the person plans to walk sometimes instead of drive.
If the person refuses:

Some people may refuse to accept losing their driving privilege. Or, they may simply forget that they are no longer able to drive. In these instances, family members should ask a doctor or other health-care professional help them raise the issue. Be careful, however, that this process does not interfere with the individual’s care. This may happen if the person becomes angry with the doctor and fails to return for future appointments.

If open discussion does not result in the person accepting the need to stop driving, it may be necessary to use other means to prevent the person from driving, such as removing the keys to the vehicle.

More extreme solutions might involve:

  • Asking a police officer to intervene, perhaps issuing a citation
  • Asking the doctor to write a prescription that says, “Do not drive”
  • Disabling the car by removing the battery
  • Moving the car so that it is out of sight.

Some people respond to being reminded about what could happen in an accident, where the person or others could be badly hurt or even killed.

For people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families, deciding when driving is unsafe can be stressful. Talking to health-care professionals, or families in similar situations can help.

Coping with the loss

The loss of freedom to come and go as one pleases can have a devastating effect on the person with Alzheimer’s disease. He may have been the only driver in the household. Also, many communities lack alternative forms of transportation.

The lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease should be as free and fulfilling as possible, but a totally risk-free life is not possible. Throughout the course of the disease, driving skills and abilities must be monitored. Never exaggerate the person’s difficulty to remove driving privileges earlier than necessary. But recognize that people with Alzheimer’s disease who drive when not competent create an unacceptable risk for themselves and others in the community.

Contact your local Alzheimer Society for information about provincial regulations for reporting someone you think may be unsafe to drive. You can also inquire about where to find a driving assessment program in your province or territory.