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Dementia and Driving:Can You Drive With Dementia?

How To Navigate Driving and Dementia You’re starting to notice more scrapes and dents on your dad’s car. You’re worried that he recently got lost driving to the grocery store he’s been shopping at for the past 20 years.  You find yourself thinking it may not be safe for your dad to be driving anymore. […]

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How To Navigate Driving and Dementia

You’re starting to notice more scrapes and dents on your dad’s car. You’re worried that he recently got lost driving to the grocery store he’s been shopping at for the past 20 years. 

You find yourself thinking it may not be safe for your dad to be driving anymore.

But you know that not being able to drive anymore might devastate him. You anticipate his feeling of fear — being stranded at home with no keys, no freedom, no life.

What should you do?

Join us as we steer through important information about dementia diagnosis and driving considerations.

Table of Contents

Does a Dementia Diagnosis Mean You Can No Longer Drive?

Dementia is defined by a set of symptoms that impair one’s ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with everyday tasks. Dementia is progressive — signs and symptoms may be relatively mild at first but can get worse with time.  

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. As the disease gets worse, people living with Alzheimer’s disease often need more intensive care. A memory care facility can provide care for those living with dementia that is tailored to their unique needs. 

Many people in the early stages of dementia might still be able to drive. However, as symptoms progress, driving skills can diminish over time. 

At first, individuals may experience problems such as getting lost or forgetting to move to the correct lane for a turn. Further progression of dementia can lead to more dangerous situations like not being able to watch the road and listen to music at the same time or not being able to stop suddenly.

Some people recognize the risks and will limit or stop driving on their own. Others may not be able to assess their driving skills or may be determined to continue to drive even when it’s no longer safe.

It can be difficult to determine the appropriate time for a person with dementia to stop driving because symptoms can vary and progress differently from person to person. Families and caregivers can look for warning signs and may need to intervene when an individual’s symptoms pose too great a risk. 

Speaking with a physician and getting professional opinions is important. The doctor can check for dementia and other problems that can affect driving skills. They might want to do medical tests or have the person take a driving test.  

Signs That Someone With Dementia Should Stop Driving

Some signals that can indicate when someone with dementia shouldn’t be driving include:

  • New dents or scratches on the car
  • Confusing the brake and gas pedals
  • Sudden lane changes
  • Speeding or driving too slowly
  • Taking a long time to do a simple errand
  • Multiple traffic tickets or warnings
  • Comments from neighbors or friends about unsafe driving
  • Recommendations from a doctor to adjust driving habits or to stop altogether
  • Other health concerns that may impair driving skills like hearing, vision, or movement

Why Is Driving and Dementia Difficult To Navigate?

Do you remember turning 16? The excitement you felt to be in the driver’s seat — independent, free, and ready to take on the world. 

Imagine the feeling of putting those car keys down for good — an emotional rollercoaster ride of lost independence, pride, and sense of identity. 

It’s not easy being the person to discuss driving and dementia with an aging loved one, but what if they really shouldn’t be driving anymore?

Knowing what fears or emotions an aging loved one has about giving up driving may help you handle the conversations more effectively and compassionately. Here are some tips on how to navigate this topic with a loved one:

  • Express your concerns.
  • Stress the positives and offer alternatives like arranging a ride schedule with a friend or family member.
  • Appeal to the person’s sense of responsibility — driving with dementia can be dangerous to both the person and others on the road.
  • Speak with your loved one’s physician — a recommendation from a doctor might be more effective than trying to persuade them not to drive yourself.

If your loved one is ready to give up driving, it may be an opportune moment to consider moving to an assisted living community that offers transportation services. 

For many seniors, retirement from driving might be easier to cope with if they are living in a community with easy access to friends, healthy meals, and rides for residents.

Senior living transportation services can take seniors nearly anywhere they want to go, including:

  • Doctor appointments
  • Therapy
  • Shopping
  • Church services
  • Shows
  • Restaurants
  • And more

No need to lose your sense of personal freedom with getting out and about. Find a community near you that will get you to where you want to go.

Dementia and Driving: Tips for When and How To Stop Driving

Research supports that the greater the dementia severity, the greater the likelihood of poor driving ability. It’s recommended that individuals with early-stage or mild dementia who wish to continue driving should have their driving skills evaluated. However, individuals with moderate or severe dementia should not drive.

4 Tips for Deciding When To Stop Driving

#1: Observe Behavioral Changes

Outside of driving, how’s the individual’s level of functioning? 

You can assess if the person no longer has the necessary skills to drive safely by observing day-to-day behavior. Some indicators include if he or she has:

  • Become less coordinated
  • Difficulty judging distance and space
  • Mood swings, irritability, confusion
  • Increased memory loss of recent events
  • Difficulty processing information
  • Trouble multitasking
  • Decreased alertness
  • Difficulty with decision-making and problem-solving

#2: Get a Third-Party Evaluation

Evaluations are often available through driver rehabilitation programs or the State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). During the evaluation, make sure the examiner is aware that the person being evaluated has dementia. 

Since the rate of progression for dementia varies widely, individuals who pass a driving evaluation should be re-evaluated every six months. Individuals who don’t pass must discontinue driving immediately.

When it comes to making decisions about driving and dementia, it might be helpful to speak with a medical professional and possibly obtain neuropsychological testing. 

According to research, neuropsychological tests can assess visual-spatial skills, attention, and reaction time and provide the most meaningful correlations when it comes to driving performance.   

Within the United States, some laws require a physician to report patients with neurological or cognitive disorders to a licensing agency. In some states, individuals diagnosed with moderate or severe dementia may have their licenses automatically revoked.  

Although this type of reporting is not mandatory across the entire United States, currently there are six states that mandate a physician to report on a patient’s ability to operate a motor vehicle:

  • California
  • Delaware
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania  

#3: Monitor Driving

If the individual demonstrates that he or she can drive safely, it’s still crucial for loved ones to continue to monitor their driving behavior. The intent of monitoring is to catch a problem before a disaster occurs. If there are doubts about driving safety, the person with dementia should not be driving.

Take note of any signs that might indicate a re-evaluation or medical reassessment is needed. Some common warning signs include:

  • Becoming lost on a familiar route
  • Driving too slowly
  • Lacking good driving judgment
  • Stopping in traffic for no reason 
  • Ignoring traffic signals
  • Becoming increasingly nervous or irritated when driving
  • Drifting into other lanes or driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Having accidents or several close-calls

If there are any concerns, it’s important to discuss them with the individual, their family, and health care providers to weigh potential risks and decide when the individual will need to stop driving. 

#4: Act as a Co-Pilot

One helpful tip when considering dementia diagnosis and driving decisions: 

Take the person along as a passenger and ask him or her to be your co-pilot. 

You can ask the person to give you specific instructions about when to use blinkers, the rules of the road, changing lanes, etc. 

This quick assessment can give you a glimpse of how much they are still comprehending. For example, if he or she has difficulty or becomes frustrated easily, you may feel it would be a good time to do another independent driving evaluation.

3 Tips for Handling How To Stop Driving

#1: Slowly Limit Driving

The progression of dementia can vary greatly — individuals who indicate safe driving skills should begin to gradually modify their driving. A slow implementation that limits driving can reduce the risk of an accident if the individual’s driving skills decrease between evaluations. 

You may encourage someone with dementia to limit their driving by:

  • Allowing them to drive only on familiar routes.
  • Encouraging them to avoid long distances.
  • Encouraging them to use roads with less traffic.
  • Suggesting they drive only during the day and avoid driving at night.
  • Suggesting they avoid driving in poor weather.

There are also ways you can help reduce the individual’s need to drive. Some may include:

  • Having groceries or meals delivered to his or her home. 
  • Purposefully planning to come over to the individuals’ house — visiting them regularly to avoid having them go out.
  • Having friends, family, or a hired transportation service take the individual to their appointments.

Making the transition from driver to passenger over a gradual time frame can ease the adjustment tremendously.

#2: Have a Frank Conversation

Before jumping into a lengthy list of why your loved one should not be driving, try asking them about how they feel about their own driving skills. You can ask prompting questions like:

  • Do you feel like you can see clearly with both eyes? 
  • How do your hands feel when turning the steering wheel?
  • Are you able to move your feet quickly enough to push on the brakes if needed? 

Be sure to pause after each question to give them time to think about their own skills. Some individuals are more aware of having driving difficulties than others. 

Be patient and compassionate. 

Driving and dementia can bring about feelings of loss of control and sadness, talking about it can help them come to terms with this grief. You may find that they are relieved that someone else is encouraging them to stop driving and is offering solutions for this transition.

#3: Provide Alternatives for Transportation

Not being able to drive your car can be difficult to accept, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck at home with no freedom to get out. There are alternatives to driving so that the individual’s activity level and mobility will not be restricted. 

Some commonly used transportation options include:

  • Friends and family 
  • Public transportation
  • Taxis, Uber, Lyft
  • Senior and special needs transportation services
  • Eldercare Locator
  • A senior living community with transportation options

Senior Services of America communities offer a wide range of amenities including resident transportation to encourage residents to live active lifestyles. 

In addition to independent and assisted living, we manage memory care facilities that can accommodate our residents who may need more specialized care when dealing with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.  

Dementia Diagnosis and Driving: Consider the Advantages of No Longer Owning a Vehicle and Driving

Driving a car often symbolizes personal liberty — empowering a person to go where they want, when they want.

But is this ideology of driving as freeing as it’s cracked up to be?

Think about all of the things that you can give up when you stop driving. 

No more:

  • Paying for gas
  • Car maintenance
  • Car insurance
  • Taxes and fees
  • Driving evaluations
  • Tickets and problems with parking

The stressors and expenses of driving are eliminated when you no longer have to own a vehicle — creating a new sense of freedom away from the burdens that come with the act of driving. 

Senior Services of America: Providing Support for Seniors Living With Dementia

If your loved one has reached a stage in their dementia where an assisted living or memory care is feeling like the right decision, don’t hesitate to contact your nearest Senior Services of America community. 

We believe that giving up your keys due to the progression of your dementia symptoms doesn’t mean you have to give up a happy, fulfilled lifestyle. 

We specialize in accommodating those who cannot drive. Whether it’s for a doctor’s appointment or a special outing, we can work with your loved one to accommodate their needs.

Instead of feeling like they are losing out on their independence — they may find they feel more freedom — especially when driving with dementia and safety are no longer a concern.    

Not only do we offer transportation services to places outside our communities, but we also have several on-site services such as:

  • Activity rooms with games and books
  • Beauty and barber services
  • Onsite private dining
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • 24-hour care staff 

We encourage frequent and regular visitations from family and friends in our entertainment areas and beautifully landscaped outdoor areas.

We know that this can be a difficult time, but our advisors are ready to help and provide you with the resources you need to move forward. The conversation can start now, contact one of our communities today.


**The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.**