Driving and Dementia: What You Should Know

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Dec 15, 2017

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The issue of driving is one many seniors and their families will face. And one that is often inevitable when there is a diagnosis of dementia. It is important to know that a person with dementia usually does not self-limit his/her own driving. And in almost every state, physicians are not required to report someone they feel is unsafe to drive. For those reasons, the burden often falls onto a family member.
When trying to decide, there are many factors to consider other than memory. Families tend to focus on if the person remembers where they are going and are they at risk of getting lost. The solution may be to allow driving to continue but only to familiar locations. However, people with dementia experience deficits in several other areas that are key to driving. For example, it is common for a person to have problems with depth perception. This makes it difficult for the driver to determine how close other cars and objects are. Determining if there is time to pull out into traffic or turn before an approaching car reaches them are some of the issues faced when there is impaired depth perception.

Decision making and the ability to anticipate events also becomes more problematic. A driver may see a ball roll into the road but be unable to anticipate that a child could be running for it. Or he/she may be taxed with deciding quickly what to do when an unanticipated event does occur. Divided attention also can become challenging for a person with dementia. The ability to look at the speedometer and then back at the road can be difficult. The driver may find it challenging to continue to focus on driving while giving attention to a bicyclist or pedestrian on the side of the road.

If you are concerned about your loved ones driving, please discuss with his/her physician. In addition, explore the use of a driving assessment program and tools available which can help in determining abilities and limitations.

Editors Note: This article was contributed by Mary Underwoods, Vice President of Memory Care Services for Artis Senior Living of the West Shore.

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