Alzheimer's Disease & Driving

Balancing independence and safety can be extremely challenging if your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. While we all may anticipate other imperative changes such as eyesight or reaction times, Alzheimer’s disease causes a different range of cognitive challenges. Driving, is not a choice that effects just the individual behind the wheel, but the countless others on the road with us, which can add an element of fear and responsibility for the family of someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

Having the Driving Conversation with Seniors  

Many families will allow unsafe driving to continue because of the emotional and logistical hurtle of limiting or stopping a loved one from driving. Even though the conversation may be difficult, it is possible to have a positive outcome from it. Here are just a few tips:  

  • Talk as early as possible. It is much easier to reason with a loved one before the disease progresses. 
  • Write an agreement statement or have your doctor write a reminder letter to reference later when your loved one may not recall the discussion or agreement not to drive.  
  • Create a plan together on transportation issues to ensure that solutions are a group effort. Addressing the social and logistical needs of the person’s transportation is important in respecting the deep impact of the decision.
  • Listen. Ask your loved one what they are most afraid of, or how the idea of not driving makes them feel. Acknowledge and legitimate the fears and concerns they are having. Be empathetic to their worries by putting yourself in their shoes and imagine your life if you were unable to drive suddenly.
  • Address others affected by the decision, such as a spouse who may have relied on their loved one to transport them.    

How Do You Know When it’s Time to Stop Driving?

The Hartford has teamed up with MIT AgeLab to produce excellent resources for families approaching the subject of driving with an elderly loved one, with our without dementia. Below is a recommended list of questions and behaviors to help your family decipher the line of when it is time to limit or stop your loved one from driving.

  1. Have you noticed any of the following warning signs?
  2. Is there a change in frequency or severity of these warning signs?
  3. Do the circumstances and seriousness of the warning signs warrant continued close monitoring, driving modification or an immediate end to driving?
  • Incorrect Signaling
  • Trouble Navigating Turns
  • Moving into a Wrong lane
  • Confusion at Exits
  • Parking Inappropriately
  • Hitting Curbs
  • Failing to Notice Traffic Signs or Lights
  • Driving at Inappropriate Speeds
  • Delayed Responses to Unexpected Situations
  • Not Anticipating Potential Dangerous Situations
  • Increased Agitation or Irritation When Driving 
  • Scrapes or Dents on the Car, Garage, or Mailbox
  • Getting Lost in Familiar Places
  • Near Misses
  • Ticketed Moving Violations or Warnings
  • Car Accident
  • Confusing Brake and Gas Pedals
  • Stopping in Traffic for No Apparent Reason

For further reading, please check out the following resources:

Alzheimer’s Association:

The Hartford | MIT AgeLab

Published on November 14, 2012.