Among the most stressful situations dementia caregivers face is taking the car keys away from their loved one when they are unable to drive safely. Initially, it can be difficult to determine whether or not it is safe for the person to continue to drive. Eventually, the red flags accumulate. First, it could be driving too slow, parking inappropriately, or getting lost on a familiar route. It could progress to difficulty making turns, drifting into other lanes, or ignoring traffic signs. Unabated, it often results in tickets for traffic violations, fender benders, or serious accidents.
Most persons with dementia have been driving more than half a century. It is ingrained in the familiarity of their daily routine. It affords them a sense of control. Its mobility sustains their freedom and independence. While they may have memory loss, they don’t forget they can drive.
It is not hard to imagine how persons with dementia might react when told they shouldn’t continue to drive. They may not be able to recognize how their impairment affects their driving ability. Most can’t reason that it’s time to stop driving. Some could become highly agitated at the suggestion of them doing so.
Not driving altogether will be a huge adjustment. If possible, have other persons gradually do the driving so it becomes part of your loved one’s routine. A “white lie” regarding why that person needs to drive may help. Try to avoid other measures such as hiding the keys, disabling the car or moving it out of sight. These tend to be only short-term solutions that will likely anger your loved one.
In most instances, it will be difficult for the caregiver, alone, to persuade their loved one not to drive. Often, it “takes a village,” with the help and advice of other family members, their doctor, or even their attorney. Their doctor may be able to evaluate their mental fitness and explain why their driving poses a threat to themselves and others. Their attorney might describe what could happen to their estate if they seriously injure or kill someone.
If their doctor wants more details about your loved one’s cognitive ability to drive, he or she may recommend a driving evaluation at the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center. The assessment takes about 60 to 90 minutes to complete. The results are usually sent to the doctor within two business days.
As a last resort, you may need to have your loved one’s driver’s license revoked. This process can be initiated by having their doctor send a mental status report to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) or you sending the FLHSMV a Medical Referral Form. If their license is surrendered or revoked, a Florida ID card can be obtained from the FLHSMV. In addition, if your loved one still attempts to drive their car, your final action may be to sell it or give it away.
You are not alone if you are having difficulty taking the car keys away and getting your loved one to stop driving. Through the Alzheimer’s Project caregiver support groups, you can learn how others have handled this problem. Our counselors may also be able to provide suggestions on what you should do. Please visit services to learn more about how we help caregivers.