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Sunday April 19, 2015

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Driving Safely with Dementia and Knowing When to Quit

Is it safe for seniors with dementia to drive? If so, when should they stop? My dad has early-stage Alzheimer's disease but still drives himself around town just fine.

Most doctors agree that people with moderate to severe dementia should not drive. In the early stages of the disease, however, many doctors agree that it is the person's driving performance and not the presence of the disease that should dictate when the person stops driving.

It is important to note that a person with dementia may not realize as their driving skills deteriorate over time. So, family members and other loved ones should monitor the person's driving skills closely. Here are some tips that may help.

Warning Signs

The best way to monitor your dad's driving skills is to take frequent rides with him and watch for key warning signs. For example, does he have trouble remembering routes to familiar places? Does he drive at inappropriate speeds, tailgate or drift between lanes? Does he react slowly or make other poor driving decisions? Also, has your dad been involved in any fender benders or received any traffic tickets lately? Have you noticed dents or scrapes on his vehicle? These are red flags.

If you need assessment help, hire a driver rehabilitation specialist who is trained to evaluate older drivers. To locate a specialist see driver-ed.org or aota.org/older-driver.

Transition Tips

If you believe it is still safe for your dad to drive, then you may want to recommend some simple adjustments to ensure his safety. Important adjustments might include driving only in daylight, on familiar routes and avoiding busy roads and bad weather. Also, see if he will sign an Alzheimer's "driving contract" (see alz.org/driving to print one) that designates someone to tell him when it is no longer safe to drive.

In addition, you should also consider getting a GPS vehicle tracking system for his car (like motosafety.com or mobicopilot.com) to help you keep an eye on him. These devices will let you track exactly where he's driving and allow you to set up zones and speed limits that will notify you via email or text message when he exits an area or arrives at a designated location.

Time to Quit

When your dad can no longer drive safely, you will need to talk to him. It is actually best to start having these conversations in the early stages of the disease, before he needs to quit driving so he can prepare himself.

You also need to have a plan for alternative transportation (including a list of family, friends and local transportation services) that will help your dad get around after he stops driving.

For tips on how to talk to your dad, the Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT AgeLab offer a variety of resources at safedrivingforalifetime.com (click on "Dementia and Driving").

Refuses To Quit

If your dad refuses to quit you have several options. First, suggest a visit to his doctor who can give him a medical evaluation and "prescribe" that he stop driving. Older people will often listen to their doctor before they will listen to their own family.

If he still refuses, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if they can help. Some states require doctors to report new dementia cases to the DMV, who can revoke the person's license.

If all these fail, consider hiding his keys or just take them away. You could also disable his vehicle, park it in another location so he can't see it or have access to it, or sell it.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published April 17, 2015

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