The issue of seniors and driving is a difficult one to address. And when the diagnosis of dementia is added, the issue becomes more complicated. When dealing with this issue, it is important to understand a few key themes:
- People with memory loss often do not self-limit their driving. It takes someone else to make the decision that it’s unsafe for them to drive.
- Connecticut and New York are non-mandatory reporting states; physicians/healthcare professionals are not required to report someone who they feel is unsafe to drive.
- Families often think that getting lost is the biggest concern; however, dementia impacts several areas that affect the ability to drive. These include depth perception, decision making, and judgment.
- People with dementia have difficulty anticipating events (for example, if a ball rolls into the road, a person with dementia may not anticipate that a child will run after it).
- It often becomes more difficult for them to divide their attention (paying attention to the merging traffic while still being able to pay attention to what is ahead).
Although aging and memory loss impact a person’s ability to drive, many people are still able to drive well for some time. Deciding when it’s time to stop is often challenging for families. There are some ways to help with the determination:
- Inspect the car for unexplained dents/scratches. Also inspect the garage, mailboxes, and other items in the path of the person’s driving.
- Go for a ride with your loved one and observe for distance, speed, signaling, and changing lanes.
- Ask those who observe the person regularly (neighbors, church members, business owners of places frequented).
- Utilize a driving assessment program to determine your loved one’s ability.
Finally, if the decision is made that your loved one should no longer drive, having the conversation can be overwhelming. It’s important not to argue facts but to speak on a more emotional level, emphasizing concern and worry. Also, the person does not need to understand that this is a long-term situation but instead that the goal is to get the person to know that for now, the person is not to drive. For more information on driving and dementia or about our services, please visit www.MaplewoodSeniorLiving.com.
Gina Saunders is the corporate director of memory care programming for Maplewood Senior Living. — by Gina Saunders