Dementia and Driving

Driving with dementia can pose some unique and frustrating challenges. Dementia causes a decline in cognitive function and can affect the safety of your driving in a variety of ways. Depending on how advanced the condition is, dementia can reduce your ability to react quickly, concentrate, and navigate busy roads. 

This condition can also trigger physical changes, including poor vision, hearing loss, and an overall decrease in motor skills and coordination.

Because of dementia’s degenerative nature, driving a car can become difficult. Without the fundamental abilities you need to maneuver a vehicle safely, there’s a higher risk of accidents and collisions.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, it is essential to learn more about how dementia can affect driving and what you can do to stay safe on the road.

Dementia and Driving Statistics

According to figures published by the Alzheimer’s Association, drivers with dementia are three times more likely to become involved in traffic accidents. 

Additionally, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society concluded that drivers with Alzheimer’s had an overwhelmingly higher risk of causing a crash than drivers without cognitive impairment. 

Although research shows that people living with dementia can pose a danger when they get behind the wheel, symptoms can vary widely from case to case. 

For anyone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s important to schedule regular evaluations to rule out the early signs of unsafe driving and talk to licensed professionals who can help determine the best course of action.

Signs of Unsafe Driving

Dementia and driving don’t always go hand in hand. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll need to be on the lookout for the common warning signs of unsafe driving, such as:

  • Getting lost going to familiar places
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Making dangerous turns or lane changes 
  • Difficulty judging distances and speeds
  • Failure to follow posted traffic signs
  • An increase in traffic citations
  • Slow reaction times 
  • Bumps and scratches on the car

If you notice any of these signs, it may be the right time to consider alternative transportation. 

Alternative Transportation

When you or a loved one is experiencing difficulty driving due to dementia or Alzheimer’s, alternative transportation options can provide a convenient solution.

Public transit options, such as trains and buses, can be some of the most reliable ways to get around, and they’re much safer than operating a vehicle. Additionally, many cities offer low-cost paratransit services that help transport individuals with degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

For shorter trips, ride-sharing and taxi services are excellent options that can be accessed around the clock from a smartphone. 

Safety Considerations for Driving with Dementia

Recent studies suggest that many people with mild Alzheimer’s and dementia can continue to drive, especially when their symptoms are isolated and don’t affect motor functions.

If you or a loved one with dementia continues to drive after being diagnosed, you’ll need to make some changes and adjustments to ensure that driving can still be done safely and efficiently.

Get Evaluated

Drivers with dementia should schedule regular hearing and vision tests to ensure they can effectively see and hear hazards on the road. 

In California, the DMV requires anyone with a dementia diagnosis to retake the written driver safety test. Sometimes, they may also need to take a special driving skills test and undergo a performance evaluation to rule out significant issues. The DMV may find it best to revoke driving privileges whenever a driver is deemed significantly impaired.

Check the Car Regularly

Motorists with dementia should ensure their vehicles are well-maintained and up-to-date on safety checks. Pay special attention to the tires, brakes, and lights.

As a precaution, you can install aftermarket safety features in your or your loved one’s car. These include lane departure warning devices, blind spot detection systems, and automatic emergency braking.

Dementia and Driving: Next Steps

Dementia and driving can be complex to navigate, as these conditions affect everyone differently. Although it may be challenging to make changes or give up driving, your safety on the road matters most. 

By watching out for these signs of unsafe driving, keeping your vehicle properly maintained, and seeking alternative transportation options when needed, you can ensure you travel safely with dementia.

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