Driving makes us independent in numerous ways. A person who has been driving to work, running errands, and leisure all his life and suddenly being told to stop driving due to the severity of their illness can be heartbreaking. Caregivers must plan an effective way to communicate this news to their patients.
Signs of Unsafe Driving
Determining when someone can no longer drive safely necessitates close observation by family and caregivers. The following list contains indicators signaling it is time to stop driving:
- Forgetting how to find familiar places
- Failure to recognize traffic signals
- Making slow or poor traffic decisions
- Driving at an unsafe speed
- Getting irritated or confused while driving
- Hitting curbs
- Using poor lane control
- Making mistakes at intersections
- Confusing the gas and brake pedals
- Taking more time than usual to return from a routine drive
- Forgetting your destination when driving
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may start to struggle with complex tasks, including driving, in its early stages. Family members and caregivers can watch for warning signs of risky driving, but getting a thorough driving evaluation by an occupational therapy driving rehabilitation specialist would be a proactive strategy.
The assessment gives a more accurate understanding of the disease’s current influence on driving capacity and helps devise a plan of options. The ultimate objective is always to retain as much mobility and independence as possible within the community. Initial recommendations can include measures to lower the danger of driving while the disease is still in its early stages.
Determining When to Take the Car Keys Away
Making the decision that your loved one with Alzheimer’s is no longer safe to drive is challenging, and you must express it carefully and respectfully. Even though the person might be concerned about losing their independence, safety must come first.
- Keep an eye out for signals that safe driving is no longer possible, such as becoming lost in familiar locations, driving excessively fast or slowly, disobeying traffic signs, or getting confused and agitated.
- Be sensitive and try to understand how the person feels about no longer being able to drive, but do not give up on your demand that they stop driving. Be consistent; do not let the person drive on “good days” and forbid them on “bad days.”
- Request assistance from the doctor. The patient could be willing to give up driving since they see the doctor as an “authority.” The doctor may advise the patient to “stop driving.” They may also contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to ask for a reevaluation.
- Take the car keys if required. If the person values having keys, you can use a substitute set of keys.
- If everything else fails, disable the vehicle or relocate it to a location where the individual cannot see or access it.
Another problem with Alzheimer’s patients and driving is the fact that if they can still drive, they are susceptible to “wandering.” People with Alzheimer’s often experience Wandering. We have covered detailed information on this topic that you can access HERE.
If the patient is still driving, it is possible that at some point, they leave their house and do not know how to get back.
Having the Conversation
Losing the independence that driving gives might be upsetting. It is critical to acknowledge a person’s sentiments and preserve their independence and dignity while assuring the person’s and others’ safety.
Initiating the conversation
- Start a conversation to express your concerns. Highlight the positive aspects while providing alternatives.
- Address resistance while reasserting your unwavering support and love.
- Make an effort to evoke the person’s sense of accountability.
- Reinforce medical recommendations and diagnoses. Request a note from a doctor saying that the patient should not drive. Or get a doctor to provide a “No Driving” prescription. You can then reinforce the conversation using the prescription letter.
- Consider an objective third-party evaluation.
- Recognize that this may be the first of many discussions regarding driving.
When the conversation does not go perfectly
- Giving up driving can be easy for some people while challenging for others. Since memory loss and lack of insight are both symptoms of Alzheimer’s, expect the person to become angry with you.
- Be persistent and firm. Show empathy and understanding.
- Recognize the discomfort of the shift and appeal to your loved one’s desire to act responsibly.
- Request that a trusted family member or your attorney reiterates the point about not driving.
- If the conversation does not work out, do not blame yourself. The disease can impact insight and judgment, making it challenging for people to realize that their driving is no longer safe. Furthermore, the condition might create mood and personality changes that amplify emotions and reactions.
Lastly, if everything else fails, remove the car keys, disable the car, or remove it entirely. When you undertake any of these things, ensure a safe and dependable alternative mode of transportation.
Caregivers must strategize a travel plan that enables their Alzheimer’s patients to travel independently or whenever they wish to by contacting local elder care centers and asking them about the available transportation facilities like carpools, low-fare buses, and taxis for older people.
Tips for planning ahead
- Be mindful that every situation is different. What functions for one individual may not work for another.
- Include close friends and family in the plan.
- Confront resistance. Show compassion for individuals who are reluctant to have the discussion and emphasize the significance of planning for the future.
- Develop a joint agreement with practical safety measures like a regular driving evaluation, a GPS tracking system for the vehicle or the patient, and alternative transportation options.
It makes sense that giving up driving could elicit strong opposition because, in our culture, driving implies independence, power, and maturity. For most people, giving up the keys to the car typically entails:
- Loss of autonomy and control
- Increase in dependency
- Loss of capacity to engage in activities they find enjoyable
- Amplified social isolation
- Loss of the connection to their past that driving provides
These worries for seniors who can no longer drive are not illogical but very real. Try to put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would cope if, for instance, you could not use your car for the upcoming week. How would you do grocery shopping or medical appointments and visit friends? Imagine being informed that you would never be able to drive again. Knowing what your loved one has gone through will enable you to support them through this challenging adjustment and assist you in connecting with the resources that will make giving up driving easier.
Giving up the keys to the car is likely to result in severe practical issues (for everyone involved) concerning:
- Housing. If they don’t have a car, is their current residence secure and feasible, or will they have to relocate?
- Shopping. Can they walk to the supermarket? Are there any other transportation options for getting around?
- Physicians and other caregivers. Will they be able to travel without a car to their medical appointments?
- Community. How will they hang out with friends, participate in events, and pursue other interests? Do they live close to any friends?
- Transportation options. What choices do they have for public transportation? Is there transportation for seniors in their neighborhood? Are any family members, acquaintances, or neighbors willing to transport them to the store or a doctor’s appointment for a fair price?
Anticipate the practical concerns that giving up driving will likely entail, and you and those who care for them will be better able to take tangible measures to handle any issues that arise.
There are other modes of transportation than driving. People have a wide range of solutions at their disposal that will enable them to keep driving freely and maintain control over their mobility.
- Give someone else the responsibility of driving. Make arrangements for friends and family to drive you.
- Make plans for a taxi service.
- Have prescription medications, groceries, or meals delivered to lessen the need to drive.