To drive or not to drive? That can be the question

Pamela J. Myers, MAOM, BSN, RN

        Working in the community with people living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, a topic that comes up frequently during conversation is the issue of driving.” When should my Dad stop driving?” “My Mom got lost going to my brother’s house – she has been there a hundred times.” or “We know she shouldn’t be driving, but she won’t give up her keys!” These are real-life dilemmas that often require quick and creative solutions.
        Driving requires the ability to react quickly to a variety of circumstances. Because of this, a person living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia will, at some point, be unable to drive. Planning ahead can help ease the transition. Discuss as a family how retirement from driving will be handled before it becomes an issue. Be sympathetic as you address the topic because retiring from driving and the perceived loss of independence is difficult for many. Some people find it helpful to keep a written record of observations to share with the person living with dementia, family members and health care professionals.
        Here are some helpful tips when it is actually time to retire from driving:
        • Transition driving responsibilities to others. Tell the person you will drive, arrange for someone else to drive or arrange a taxi service or special transportation services for older adults.
        • Find ways to reduce the person’s need to drive. Have prescription medicines, groceries or meals delivered.
        • Solicit the support of others. Ask your physician to advise the person not to drive. Involving your physician in a
family conference on driving may be more effective than trying to persuade the person not to drive by yourself.
        • Ask the physician to write a letter or prescription stating that the person with dementia must not drive. You can then use the document to remind your family member what’s been decided. You can also ask a respected family authority figure or your attorney to reinforce the message about not driving.
        • If the person living with dementia wanders, they may also do so by car. Consider enrolling in a wandering response service. As the disease progresses and the person is no longer able to make decisions, substitute their driver’s license with a photo identification card. However, do not assume that taking away a driver’s license prevents driving. The person may not remember that they no longer have a license or even that a license is legally required to drive.
        What if the person refuses to stop? If the person insists on driving, consider the following steps as a last resort:
        • Control access to the car keys. Designate one person who will do all of the driving and give that individual exclusive access to the car keys.
        • Disable the car. Remove the distributor cap, battery or starter wire. Ask a mechanic to install a “kill wire” that will
prevent the car from starting unless the switch is thrown. Or give the person a set of keys that looks like his or her old set but does not work to start the car.
        • Consider selling the car. This may allow you to save enough in insurance premiums, gas and maintenance costs to
pay for public transportation, including taxi rides.
        This is frequently a tough issue for families to deal with – for a free care consultation with our staff, call our local
office at 419-537-1999 or our toll-free 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900. We are here to help.
        Pamela J. Myers is Program Director for Alzheimer's Association Northwest and Central Ohio Chapters.


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