June 8, 2017 by Dean Bellefeuille

seniors with Alzheimer's

The ability to leave the house and travel through Syracuse or wherever we want whenever we want is a freedom that we often take for granted. For older adults, driving is much more than just a mode of transportation; it symbolizes both competence and independence. And the thought of giving up that independence can be very difficult, particularly for seniors with Alzheimer’s.

The need for sustained concentration and quick reaction time tends to decline as we age, and for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, this process accelerates dramatically, making it hard for family and friends to determine when it’s time for the senior to stop driving and find alternate transportation options.

Road Hazards

Because Alzheimer’s disease impacts the senior’s reasoning skills, he or she may resist the idea of giving up driving, so it’s often up to family caregivers to determine when the senior can no longer safely operate a vehicle. One good way to learn more about a senior loved one’s driving skills is to take a drive with him or her and keep an eye out for the following warning signs of unsafe driving:

  • Getting lost of forgetting how to get to familiar places
  • Braking harder than normal for stoplights and stop signs
  • Trouble seeing things on the road
  • Difficulty changing lanes or making turns
  • Running through stop signs or lights
  • Difficulty keeping the car in the lane
  • Slow reaction times or poor decisions
  • Trouble turning his or her head before changing lanes
  • Hitting the curb while driving
  • Trouble adjusting to the oncoming glare of headlights
  • Driving too fast or too slow
  • Increased frustration, anger, or anxiety when driving
  • Failure to use turn signals or mirrors
  • Becoming angry and confused while driving
  • Confusing the brake and gas pedal
  • Increased confrontation with other drivers
  • Exhibiting confusion in normal driving situations
  • A series of close calls, collisions, or driving violations, even if they are minor

Most experts agree that it’s important that seniors with Alzheimer’s stop driving as soon as possible and find an alternative and safe mode of transportation. It can be a tough call, but ask yourself: “Do I feel safe riding in a car or having my family members in a car that the person with dementia is driving? And, would I feel safe if my children were playing on the sidewalk on a street where the person with dementia was driving?” If the answer is no, then you know it’s time for your loved one to give up the keys.

If your loved one will not stop voluntarily, check with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to find out their process for evaluating a person’s driving ability. Many facilities offer thorough driver safety evaluations to determine whether it is safe for a person to continue driving. You can also request a note from your loved one’s doctor indicating that he or she should stop driving, or simply take control of the keys if needed.

Remember that the ability to drive gives your loved one a sense of independence, and losing that freedom isn’t easy. Arranging for alternative transportation through the services of a local home care agency, like At Home Independent Living in Syracuse, can help make the transition easier.

The care team at At Home Independent Living understands the unique challenges that arise when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, and our Syracuse senior care experts are dedicated to promoting independence and optimism in your loved one. Call us any time at 315-579-4663, or download our free brochure to learn more about our in-home care services.