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Driving and Dementia: A Difficult Conversation

A previous article in Caring Right at Home examined the American Academy of Neurology’s recommendations on dementia and driving. Family members report that discussing this issue with their loved one can be fraught with hurt feelings and dead-end conversations. The Alzheimer’s Association recently released helpful new tools for families who are struggling with this decision.

Senior and daughter having a difficult discussion about driving

Driving demands quick reaction time and fast problem solving. Due to the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s disease, people with the disease will eventually be unable to drive. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that families discuss driving before there is a crisis, ideally while the person with Alzheimer’s is still able to participate in the conversation and decision-making process.

"Driving is often associated with autonomy, so relinquishing car keys can be a very emotional and stressful process," said Linda Mitchell, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. "Educating yourself on approaches and options prior to having this difficult conversation can help ease the transition for everyone involved."

To assist with these conversations, the Alzheimer’s Association has created four short videos depicting different scenarios for discussing driving and dementia. Watching the videos may give families an idea of how to start the conversation or how to respond to a particular objection. In one video, a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s drafts a contract saying that when she reaches a point when she can no longer drive, she gives her children permission to step in. Another technique shown in the new videos is to secure a doctor’s "prescription" advising the person with Alzheimer’s to no longer drive. Following each of the videos is a list of tips and techniques families can use when having the conversation about driving.

What Are the Signs That Driving Is No Longer Safe?

"Talking to loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease about handing over their car keys can be difficult—especially if the individual is unable or unwilling to recognize symptoms they may be experiencing," said Mitchell. She says that some people are able to continue driving in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but it requires ongoing evaluation to ensure safety.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a list of red flags that suggest it is 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 
  • Hitting curbs
  • Using poor lane control
  • Making errors at intersections
  • Confusing the brake and gas pedals
  • Forgetting the destination during the trip

The Alzheimer’s Association also provides sample "driving contracts" and a list of local evaluation specialists. For more information on dementia and driving, visit the Dementia and Driving Resource Center, which contains helpful information about recognizing when driving is unsafe, finding alternate transportation, and getting a driving evaluation. The project was supported by a grant from the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Source: The Alzheimer’s Association – Colorado Chapter. The Alzheimer's Association advocates for those living with Alzheimer’s and their families on related legislative issues, and with healthcare and long-term care providers.

Learn More

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers information about driving and Alzheimer’s disease, including a training manual for professionals that includes information of interest to family caregivers.

In the next issue of Caring Right at Home: Giving up the car, physical limitations, and brain changes that make it harder to navigate public spaces cause many older adults to spend most of their time alone. Read “Loneliness Is a Health Risk for Seniors” in the July 2012 issue to find suggestions for helping older loved ones remain socially engaged.


Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care services.


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