Driving and Dementia

A recent Canadian study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, draws attention to the possibility that even in the early stages of memory loss, older drivers may have difficulty making the complex decisions associated with driving.

Driving requires quick thinking, careful attention, memory and decision making which can be impaired in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.  But according to a recent Global News report, there are no recognized means of assessing the safety of people driving with mild cognitive impairment to date.

The study, conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, included 24 patients with memory loss and twenty cognitively healthy drivers of similar ages.  Both groups participated in driving simulations as well as cognitive testing.   Those with mild impairment made more than twice as many driving errors than the healthy group;  turning left with oncoming traffic and crossing the center line or straying from the legal driving lane were among the most common mistakes.  Memory issues alone, without further impairment, did not appear to cause seniors to make more driving errors than the healthy drivers but those with multiple cognitive impairments were at greater risk to make errors when driving by missing stop signs, straying from lanes and while turning left.

When seniors should stop driving or be forced to stop driving is a complex question that often polarizes older adults and their families or caregivers.  Giving up driving results in a loss of independence that many seniors, especially those without accessible alternative transportation, rail against.   Reliable, affordable transportation is one of the most pressing concerns of seniors aging in place who wish to remain active members of their community without becoming socially isolated.  Family or friends can assist seniors in developing a list of alternative transportation options to help alleviate some of the fears and frustration surrounding stopping driving.

To learn more about how to deal with dementia and driving, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website’s Dementia and Driving Resource Center by following this link.

Signs it’s time to stop driving:

  • Forgetting how to locate familiar places
  • Failing to observe traffic signs
  • Making slow or poor decisions in traffic
  • Driving at an inappropriate speed
  • Becoming angry or confused while driving
  • Hitting curbs
  • Using poor lane control
  • Making errors at intersections
  • Confusing the brake and gas pedals
  • Returning from a routine drive later than usual
  • Forgetting the destination you are driving to during the trip

Source:  Alzheimer’s Association