Driving Safety and Alzheimer's Disease
Good drivers are alert, think clearly, and make good decisions. When a person with Alzheimer’s disease is not able to do these things, he or she should stop driving. But, he or she may not want to stop driving or even think there is a problem.
As the caregiver, you will need to talk with the person about the need to stop driving. Do this in a caring way. Understand how unhappy the person may be to admit that he or she has reached this new stage.
A person with some memory loss may be able to drive safely sometimes. But, he or she may not be able to react quickly when faced with a surprise on the road. Someone could get hurt or killed. If the person’s reaction time slows, you need to stop the person from driving.
Here are some other things to know about driving and memory loss:
- The person may be able to drive short distances on local streets during the day but may not be able to drive safely at night or on a freeway. If this is the case, then limit the times and places the person can drive.
- Some people with memory problems decide on their own not to drive, while others may deny they have a problem.
Signs that the person should stop driving include new dents and scratches on the car. You may also notice that the person takes a long time to do a simple errand and cannot explain why, which may indicate that he or she got lost.
To find out if a person with Alzheimer’s is still competent to drive, watch him or her drive at different times of the day, in different types of traffic, and in different road conditions and weather. If riding with the driver is not possible, follow the driver in another vehicle. Over time, a picture will emerge of things the driver can and cannot do well.
When Driving Becomes Unsafe
Here are some ways to stop people with Alzheimer’s disease from driving:
- Try talking about your concerns with the person.
- Take him or her to get a driving test.
- Ask the doctor to tell him or her to stop driving. The doctor can write, “Do not drive” on a prescription pad, and you can show this to the person.
- Hide the car keys, move the car, take out the distributor cap, or disconnect the battery.
Finding Other Transportation Options
If a person with Alzheimer’s can no longer drive, find other ways that the person can travel on his or her own. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging or Eldercare Locator for information about transportation services in your area. These services may include free or low-cost buses, taxi service, or carpools for older people. Some churches and community groups have volunteers who take seniors wherever they want to go. Family and friends are another great resource.
If the person with Alzheimer’s disease won’t stop driving, ask your State Department of Motor Vehicles about a medical review. The person may be asked to retake a driving test. In some cases, the person’s license could be taken away.
For More Information About Driving Safety and Alzheimer's
NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
The National Institute on Aging’s ADEAR Center offers information and free print publications about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias for families, caregivers, and health professionals. ADEAR Center staff answer telephone, email, and written requests and make referrals to local and national resources.
Content reviewed: May 18, 2017