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When to stop driving: Broaching the subject

Sometimes the person with Alzheimer’s disease is relieved to stop driving. Perhaps she was feeling a lack of confidence when she drove. She might have been worried about an accident or confused about how to get places. Even someone with this awareness, though, will need support and sensitivity around the subject of giving up driving, as it still can represent a loss of independence.

Family members and caregivers:

When a person is unable to recognize or admit that he is losing his ability to drive, family members and caregivers often have to deal with the issue. Their concerns may include the risk to the person, the risk to the public and the risk of liability in the event of an accident. Within families, there may be disagreement about when the person with Alzheimer’s disease should stop driving. Some family members may believe that the person should stop driving immediately upon diagnosis. Others may be inclined to overlook some risky driving behaviour in favour of maintaining the person’s sense of independence. They may fear that bringing attention to the person’s loss of abilities and the need to stop driving may create difficulties in the relationship.

By the time the person should give up driving, the disease may have affected his ability to understand the reason why. Discussing the situation openly in a trusting environment may help the person accept the loss more easily.

The Dementia and Driving Resource Center, created by the Alzheimer’s Association, provides advice on how to talk about driving with a person who has dementia. It includes four videos detailing different methods to broach the subject of driving and how the person with dementia may react.

Not If But When is a website that provides information to caregivers and health-care professionals on how to have the talk about driving and how to help the person with dementia hang up the keys. Learn more about what to expect, how to cope and strategies to help someone with dementia stop driving.

Doctors: People often approach their family doctor to help determine when a person should stop driving. However, doctors may not have full information to be able to assess the situation. They see people for a limited time, during visits, not when they are behind the wheel. They may not have proper training to assess driving abilities. They rely on information from individuals and family members who may not always be objective or reliable. As well, doctors may be concerned that telling people they must stop driving could harm the doctor/patient relationship.

Doctors are bound by professional ethics, and in some provinces by law, to report medical conditions that could impair a person’s ability to drive. They may also be held liable if a person in their care is involved in an auto accident and they have not reported the person’s driving problems to provincial licensing authorities.

If you are the person with Alzheimer’s disease:

Giving up driving may be one of the most stressful events you experience, but, in the end, you have to weigh this against your safety and the safety of others. Recognizing and admitting the loss of abilities needed to drive is difficult for some people, while others freely give up their licence.