Driving with Dementia
One of the most devastating losses for persons with dementia is losing their independence. Driving is a major form of independence and restriciting someone from driving can be very stressful for the caregiver and care recipient. The following are some suggestions to help caregivers to better understand and deal with this subject more effectively.
A person with wandering problems should not have access to an automobile. People with severe memory problems have a greater chance of getting into an accident. Sometimes the person with the memory disorder will use their own judgment and give up driving a car. Occasionally a family will request that the person play it safe and stop driving. The doctor, based on a medical and neuro-logical evaluation, may advise the patient to stop driving. Carrying out the doctor's orders is the family's responsibility. The person may become angry with the family about the restriction on driving. The family should remind the person, "The doctor wants you to stop driving until you are better." The recommendation to stop driving extends to all motor vehicles, such as trucks, motor boats, or lawnmowers.
To help stop the driving, the caregiver should:
- Put away or hide the car keys.
- If the person insists on keeping the car keys, file down the ignition key.
- Donate the car to a favorite charity or to a hard-working grandchild.
- Buy a new, different car. A difference in style, color, and model, especially on the inside and at the control panel, should result in the person being unable to learn how to drive the new car.
- In some cases it may be necessary to fix the car so that it cannot start. One way to disable a car is to remove the spark plug wires.
- Sometimes it is helpful to ask the doctor to inform the care recipient they no longer will be able to drive so the caregiver doesn’t take the blame and look like the bad guy.
Material adapted from “Helping People with Progressive Memory Disorders: A guide for You and Your Family” (University of Florida Health Science Center). Used with permission form the authors K. M. Heilman, Ph.D., L. Doty, Ph. D., J. T. Stewart, MD., D. Bowers, Ph.D., & L. Gonzalez-Rothi, Ph.D.