John’s Hopkins offers 15 warning signs of when it’s time to stop driving. We’ll look at five from a caregiver’s point of view and from the perspective of a person with dementia.
- Driving too slowly or too fast
- Being honked at or yelled at by other drivers
- Dents, dings or scraped paint on the car, mailbox, or garage
- Stopping at a green light
- Mistaking the gas pedal for the brake
All warning signs are just that – a warning to look further.
From the Caregiver’s point of view
To be fair, each of us living without dementia can recall times we’ve experienced any one of these warning signs. If someone is quick to judge (i.e., back-seat driver), we grow irritated.
- Have you ever continued driving even though you’re too tired?
- Have you confused the brake with the clutch after driving a vehicle with manual transmission and then an automatic?
- Have you ever suspected someone’s going to run a red light in cross traffic and slowed down to a near stop while back-seat drivers screamed, “GO! It’s a green light!”
From the point of view of a person with dementia
- Now that the doctor has labeled me as a person with dementia, everyone around here thinks I can’t do for myself. The difference is almost like night and day.
- Sure, there are moments when I grow disoriented, but I simply pull over when things get overwhelming to clear my thoughts.
- But after I called my wife to get my bearings, she and the children want me to give up the keys.
- What am I supposed to do, ask them for a ride every time I need to go somewhere? That’s crazy!
- They can’t take away my independence. This is a free country. I’ve never been in an accident or even gotten a ticket!
How can we help a person with dementia keep our roads safe?
Start by documenting instances observed, for example:
- When did the person stop at a green light? Why? Has this occurred more than once? (Write it down.)
- How many more dents and dings does the vehicle have? In what period of time? (Write it down.)
- How often are other drivers honking their horns at the person? Why? (Write it down.)
Be sure to document the situation. Have you ever been honked or yelled at or observed the flames of passion accompanied by finger gesticulations? Take the entire situation in context and measure the frequency with which the 15 warning signs are observed.
Once you have a legitimate cause for concern, ask the person with dementia if you can discuss his/her driving.
Know that one’s fear of losing independence or facing a label of incompetence will create a feeling of defensiveness. Keep your discussion respectful. Instead of telling, engage the person with dementia as you share one or two instances you’ve observed and ask for their suggestion of how to handle it. After all, judging from the comments above, the person with dementia may not even be aware of engaging in any of the warning signs.
If the discussion grows heated, stop and wait until another time when you can discuss the risks, benefits, and options for the person with dementia.
Of greatest importance beyond driving on the road safely is preserving your relationship with the person and his/her trust in you.
If all else fails, you’ll need to resort to other and often less-desirable measures, such as taking the keys away or moving the car to another location. Be sure to report the vehicle removal to the police in case your loved one grows concerned enough to report a stolen vehicle. Finally, get the person’s doctor involved to file a report with the DMV.
Each person deserves to be treated as a unique individual. Each person deserves respect. Yet, the roads must remain safe to drive; otherwise, you and your loved one could experience a lifetime of regret.
For the entire article at Health After 50 (was Johns Hopkins), please click on
15 Warning Signs that it’s Time to Stop Driving. [UPDATED 11/21/2017: Link unavailable. Replaced with Dementia Care: What About Driving?]
On a personal note…
My father forgot that he parked his car at a hospital in Wisconsin. When asked where his car was, he explained, “They took the car… it’s not worth paying several hundred dollars to get it back.” About six months later, the hospital’s security personnel traced the car’s owner to where he was living–with my husband and me in California. By that time, his dementia had progressed and his car was no longer of concern. On the rare occasion he insisted on driving, I’d hand him my car keys. He’d laugh nervously when he couldn’t find his car. And then we’d offer to drive him.