When To Stop Driving: New Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Patients (And Others)

April 13, 2010 at 5:48 pm Leave a comment

Senior Drivers - Image by SailorJohn on Stock.Xchng In many parts of the US, driving is crucial  to a sense of independence as an adult. Getting your license, owning your first car – they’re rites of passage, the first real sign that society sees you as responsible.

As we age, giving up those keys is just as significant –   it’s an undeniable return to dependence on others. Trips to the doctor, the grocery store,  visiting friends and taking part in social activities become more difficult.  And it has negative consequences – the desire not to be an imposition on others often leads seniors to procrastinate and avoid situations where they’ll have to ask for a ride.   The avoidance has a snowball effect, that can lead to a poor diet, poorer health, isolation, and depression – all of which worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive issues.

So while the risks of an accident go up as cognitive symptoms worsen, it’s important not to give the keys up any earlier than necessary.   Studies suggest that around 75% of patients with mild dementia can still pass driving tests and be considered safe to drive.

But how do you know when it’s time?The  American Academy of Neurology has just issued new guidelines intended to help patients and caregivers know when they should stop driving.   They recommend that it be a decision made along with a doctor, who will use the Clinical Dementia Rating scale to assess the progression of the disease, and the risks in driving.

A few signs that driving ability may be deteriorating?  Driving fewer miles and shorter distances, accidents (even minor ones), moving violations and traffic tickets, avoiding driving in rain or at night, and personality changes that include increased aggressive or impulsive behaviors.  It’s important to note both changes in the driving, and the patient’s own awareness of the changes.

The guidelines also suggest that caregiver’s instincts about when a patient’s driving is becoming dangerous  is usually  reliable, but that patients own assessments of their safe-driving ability aren’t as dependable.

So if there’s concern about being able to drive safely as you or a loved one ages – and especially if a form of dementia has been diagnosed? Talk to the doctor.  Basing it on objective measurements of ability can reduce anxiety and make the decision a bit less painful, since it isn’t based on their judgement of a loved one alone.

And when the decision is made, make out a list of alternative transportation options.  Even communities without public transportation programs may have rides available for seniors.  Some church groups and community organizations offer help with transportation, and taxis are an option in some situations.

Making the decision to give up the car keys is never easy, but it doesn’t need to be a decision that falls solely on the patient or their caregiver – assessing a patients cognitive state and the risks of driving is part of the doctors job.

Entry filed under: Supporting Science & Medicine. Tags: , , , .

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A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
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Authored by Tori Deaux
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