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Dementia and Driving: When and How to Take Away Driving Privileges

dementia and driving

One of the most difficult things a family can face is having a loved one diagnosed with dementia. There are many new realities to face and issues to deal with as their health and mind decline.

For those who were extremely independent upon diagnosis, it can be an unsettling, frustrating and frightening time to lose that independence. Things that were once second nature become impossible or dangerous.

One of the biggest concerns is regarding dementia and driving. How do you tell a parent No you can’t have the keys? How do you know when it’s time to do so?

Keep reading for tips on how to handle the issue of dementia and driving without being disowned by your ailing parent.

Let’s get started!

A Difficult Diagnosis but You’re Not Alone

The families of more than 45 million people worldwide are coping with dementia. That number is expected to rise to 75 million by 2030 and to triple by 2050. 

As families attempt to care and support their loved one who has been diagnosed it can be heart-wrenching and difficult to know when and how to make the right decisions. 

One of the hardest things to discuss and work through, in the beginning, can be keeping them safe and off the roads. The individual may believe they are fine or be in denial about how bad their cognitive ability has become.

Let’s discuss how to know the right time to discuss and actions to take around dementia and driving. 

Early Dementia

 Almost 10 million people are newly diagnosed with dementia every year. Often it is during the early stages of the disease when the person still has a fairly independent life and has not yet needed assisted living or personal support. 

For many, the early stages of dementia are mistaken or excused away like a normal part of aging but eventually seek medical help as life becomes more difficult and complicated due to the symptoms being more prevalent.

Forgetfulness can happen to all of us at one point or another but memory decline is not a natural part of aging. 

Symptoms of Early Dementia

Most people think of memory loss as the main symptom of dementia it may not be what you notice first or is most prevalent especially in the beginning.

While short-term memory issues are among the difficulties of dementia it is often hidden from others by the individual. Cognitive difficulties, confusion, mood changes and problems performing day to day tasks may be the first symptoms experienced or noticed by others.

Safety at home and especially on the road may be of particular concern for loved ones as they become aware of the cognitive decline. 

Dementia and Driving

The thought of a loved one with dementia continuing to operate a motor vehicle or use other dangerous machinery can be quite alarming.

Drivers with mild dementia have over 8 times the number of crashes as others with normal cognitive function. They also have a 50% risk of being involved in a serious crash within the first two years of diagnosis.

However, being able to take the keys away from a parent and telling them what they can or can’t do seems like an impossible task for some. 

After all, parents are the ones who told us what to do, drove us to school or extracurricular activities and even taught us how to drive. Children can find it extremely hard to have the roles reversed or to even bring up the topic with a loved one they respect and love.

It’s because of that respect and love that it’s so important to find a way to discuss these difficult topics and open up communication so that they and the ones around them can remain safe.

Starting from a Place of Love

As you begin to notice and realize that a parent or loved one should not be driving for safety reasons, you may not be sure when is the time to talk to them about it or how to bring the topic up.

Many families gently work their way up to the final decision by offering to go with them when they are going out. Having reasons why a loved one should drive that do not diminish their independence or feeling of pride.

This tactic can only work for so long as you can’t be there every minute of the day to make sure they aren’t heading to the store or deciding to take a scenic drive. 

Seek Support

You don’t have to be alone in this process. Talk to other loved ones to support you. Your loved one has medical professionals and a health care team that can also provide a great deal of support and offer suggestions of how to deal with your loved one’s condition.

They will also be able to help you know when it is the right time to take their keys away for good. There will come a time where it isn’t just a concern but an outright danger to have them driving at all.

Starting the Conversation

It is best to have the conversation with your loved one in a loving and not confrontational environment. You don’t want them feeling blindsided or ganged up on. 

You may also find it easier to discuss this at a time when everyone is at their best. Morning may prove to be best for your loved one when they are well rested and have had something to eat. Often as the day goes on cognitive function and mood decline so early in the day may be best for them to comprehend and process the conversation.

How to Start the Conversation

Ensure your loved one knows that this conversation is coming from a place of love, concern, and support. Have examples of situations causing concern recently to support your decision and justify the conversation.

Talk about the benefits of hanging up their keys and the options available to help them stay active and get around. The fear of the unknown is often a reason for defensiveness. 

Discuss a plan for getting them to their regular activities and appointments. Talk about their concerns, feeling, and fears about this change in their independence. 

You may even want to have this discussion with their health care provider present so that you have their backing and support. They’ll able to give a trusted medical opinion and are in a position of authority that parents may more easily accept than that of their child.

The Right Choice for Them

Just as a parent makes choices that were hard for you to hear when you were little in order to keep you safe, you need to make the right choices to keep them safe now.

As difficult as talking about dementia and driving may be, remember that it’s because you love them and are worried about the safety of them and others on the road. 

To learn more about dementia or other issues related to aging, assisted living facilities and more continue to check out our blog or contact us today.