Teepa Snow on Alzheimer's/Dementia and Driving
Dementia and Driving Resource Center
demands quick reaction time and fast decision making – because of this,
a person with Alzheimer's will eventually become unable to drive. Ideally, families should
talk openly about driving soon after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. Making
decisions about when it is time to stop driving can be difficult, but
dealing with the issue early on can help ease the transition.
Having the conversation:
Losing the independence driving provides can be upsetting. It is
important to acknowledge a person's feelings and preserve his or her
independence, while ensuring the person's safety and the safety of
Starting the conversation:
- Initiate a dialogue to express your concerns. Stress the positive and offer alternatives.
- Address resistance while reaffirming your unconditional love and support.
- Appeal to the person's sense of responsibility.
- Reinforce medical diagnoses and directives. Ask the physician to
write a letter stating that the person must not drive. Or ask the
physician to write a prescription that says, "No driving." You can then
use the letter or prescription to reinforce the conversation.
- Consider an evaluation by an objective third party.
- Understand that this may be the first of many conversations about driving
When the conversation does not go well:
Some people give up driving easily, but for others this transition can
be very difficult. Be prepared for the person to become angry with you,
due to the memory and insight issues that are part of Alzheimer's.
- Be patient and firm. Demonstrate understanding and empathy.
- Acknowledge the pain of this change and appeal to the person's desire to act responsibly.
- Ask a respected family authority figure or your attorney to reinforce the message about not driving.
- If the conversation does not go well, do not blame yourself. The
disease can impair insight and judgment, making it difficult for people
to understand that their driving is no longer safe. Also the disease can
cause mood and personality changes that make reactions more pronounced.
- As a last resort, take away the car keys, disable the car or
remove the car completely. When you do any of these things, be sure to
provide safe, reliable alternative transportation.
Help is available:
Each situation is unique.
What works for one person may be different
from what works for another. You can get the information and support you
need from the Alzheimer's Association.
Call their 24/7 Helpline: 800.272.3900
Learn the facts about driving safety.
Plan ahead before driving becomes an issue. This provides an opportunity to make choices and maintain independence and safety.
For people in the early stages of Alzheimer's, it is never too soon to
plan ahead for how you will get around when you can no longer drive.
Putting a plan in place can be an empowering way to make your voice
Tips for planning ahead:
- Remember that each situation is unique. What works for one person
may be different from what works for another. You can get the
information and support you need from the Alzheimer's Association at
- Involve family and close friends in the plan.
- Confront resistance. Empathize with those who are uncomfortable
having the conversation and stress the importance of preparing for the
- Develop an agreement for all to share that includes practical
safety steps, such as a periodic driving assessment, a GPS monitoring
system for the car, and alternate transportation options.
Sign a driving contract.
A driving contract allows you to share directions for what you would like to happen when you can no longer drive.
Driving is not the only transportation option available. There
are many options people can explore that will allow them to continue to
travel independently and remain in control of their mobility.
- Transition driving responsibilities to others. Arrange for family members and friends to provide transportation.
- Use special transportation services for older adults. Access local resources using the Eldercare Locator at www.eldercare.gov.
- Reduce the need to drive by having prescription medicines, groceries or meals delivered.
Signs of unsafe driving:
Determining when someone can no longer safely drive requires
careful observation by family and caregivers. The following list
provides warning signs that it's time to stop driving:
- Forgetting how to locate familiar places
- Failing to observe traffic signs
- Making slow or poor decisions in traffic
- Driving at an inappropriate speed
- Becoming angry or confused while driving
- Making errors at intersections
- Confusing the brake and gas pedals
- Returning from a routine drive later than usual
- Forgetting the destination you are driving to during the trip
At the earliest stages, a person with Alzheimer's disease may begin
to have difficulty with complex tasks such as driving. Although family
and caregivers can watch for signs of unsafe driving, a proactive
strategy would be to get a comprehensive driving evaluation by an
occupational therapy driving rehabilitation specialist.
provides a more objective understanding of the current impact of the
disease on driving capacity and results in a plan of options. The goal
is always to retain the highest level of independence and mobility in
Initial recommendations may include strategies to reduce
driving risk during the early part of the disease. The occupational
therapist can offer strategies specific to the individual’s goals and
The American Occupational Therapy Association website includes a
national database of driving specialists as well as a wealth of
resources for both persons with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.