Older Adult Drivers and Considerations
Decline in cognitive abilities can be an important contributor to the driving problems encountered by older adults. Many people and their families are unsure what steps they should take when it comes to driving safety risk. This become particularly more of a concern for individuals who have been diagnosed with dementia (such as Alzheimer’s disease).
As Alzheimer's disease progresses, an individual’s ability to navigate their environment as effectively as they did in the past declines. In particular, a person with Alzheimer’s disease can begin to exhibit poor judgment, poor insight, disorientation, difficulty completing multistep tasks and problems understanding spatial relationships due to all of the changes occurring in their brain.
For many of us, driving is a major aspect of maintaining our independence as we age. Driving is a complex task that involves multiple parts of the brain. The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease do raise the risk of impairing an individual’s driving ability.
Individuals with some memory loss may be able to drive safely sometimes. But in other cases when the persons memory and decision-making skills have worsened, they may not be able to accurately assess their own abilities. Families play a key role in safety especially related to driving.
The person with Alzheimer's disease or dementia may make the decision to stop driving, but it is also possible that the person may not want to stop driving on their own. Loss of driving is very much tied to feelings of loss of independence and recognition that the disease is progressing.
As the family member and/or caregiver, you will likely need to start the conversation about driving and involve the person as much as possible. A driver evaluation by an occupational therapist may assist in assessing the person's driving safety at any point in time.
Hackensack Meridian Health @ JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Center 65 James Street P.O. Box 3059 Edison, NJ 08818-3059 Contact: Veronique Frey, MS OTR/L, CDRS Email: Veronique.Frey@hmhn.org or Brigitte A. Muehlbauer, MS OTR/L, CDRS Email: Brigitte.Muehlbauer@hmhn.org Phone: (732) 321-7056 ex.1 Fax: (732) 744-5804
Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation 1199 Pleasant Valley Way West Orange, NJ 07052 Contact: Rich Nead, CDRS Email: RNead@Kessler-Rehab.com or Sandra Kewcharoen, OTR/L,DRS Email: Skewcharoen@kessler-rehab.com Phone: (973) 731-3900 x2322
Adaptive Mobility Services, LLC. Gabrielle Ziugzda, OTR/L, DRP,
2 Cliffside Way Boonton, New Jersey
Here are some options that may help navigate this difficult issue:
Have an ongoing discussion with their Primary Care Doctor or Neurologist about the person's driving ability. Share information about any changes that may impact driving. Has the person become more confused in handling daily tasks, gotten lost? Have there been any car accidents or traffic violations.
It may be time to stop driving or restrict driving, if the person has had new dents and scratches on the car, incorrect parking, driving at inappropriate speeds, failure to observe traffic signs and signals, sudden lane changes and forgetting destinations and familiar directions.
Identify alternative transportation options before they are needed, so when the person with Alzheimer's is no longer able to drive safely, transportation is available to his/her usual activities.
When the person is no longer able to drive safely, lock up the car keys, so they are not accessible. Sometimes an older driver must be stopped from driving over their objections.
You can make an anonymous report to your local DMV or licensing authority.
Alternatively, you can take away the person's car keys, sell or disable the car, or enlist the local police to help.
If you're not sure about what to do please do not continue to wait and ignore the situation. Be proactive in order to protect the person driving but also the other drivers and pedestrians.