Welcome to Driving with Dementia

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I am a family/friend caring for a person with dementia who is still driving. I am interested in:

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Understanding the importance of giving up driving

A person with dementia will eventually lose the brain functions necessary to make the kind of fast decisions and reactions they need to drive safely. This is because even though there are different types of dementia, all types are reflective of damage to the brain. Also, dementia is progressive so the symptoms will get worse over time. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia.

How the driving skills of people with dementia are specifically affected depends on how far the dementia has progressed, as well as which parts of the brain are damaged. To drive safely, different parts of the brain all work together in a complex process to:

  • See and hear surroundings
  • Guess what might happen
  • Decide how to respond
  • React physically

In addition, all of this has to happen quickly. Many additional problems that are common with dementia make driving unsafe, including:

  • Increasing forgetfulness
  • Limited attention span
  • Limited ability to quickly process information
  • Poor judgment and problem-solving ability
  • Disorientation to place
  • Low reaction ability
  • Visual perceptual issues (how things are seen in space, in relation to each other)

The changes the person with dementia is experiencing are much more complex than the changes people without dementia experience with age, like problems with their vision and slower reaction time. The person with dementia will eventually:

  • Lose a range of brain functions that are necessary to make the kind of fast decisions and reactions necessary to drive safely.
  • Lose insight into their abilities. So it’s common that they will not recognize driving difficulties or be able to develop new behaviours to adjust to these changes.

In addition, some people with dementia don’t realize or remember making unsafe decisions while driving. Not recognizing their driving difficulties, the person with dementia may be defensive. For example:

  • They may say things like “I’ve been driving my whole life and I haven’t ever had an accident.”
  • If they get lost, they may make excuses like, “I was planning to go there."
  • With close calls, they may blame others, “She wasn’t looking where she was going."

As a result, the person with dementia is not the best person to assess their own driving ability. You can help by:

Some people with dementia are able to drive safely for some time after diagnosis. However, the longer people with dementia continue to drive after diagnosis, the higher their chance of getting into a vehicle crash. The majority of studies show an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes among people with dementia. Research indicates that:

  • Driving performance decreases with increasing dementia severity (Jacobs et al., 2017). Reviews have demonstrated that in all 17 studies that assessed driver performance, drivers with dementia performed significantly worse than study participants without dementia. In addition, in 6 out of 10 studies of caregiver and/or state-reported motor vehicle collisions, drivers with dementia were involved in crashes more often than study participants without dementia (Chee et al., 2017; Man-Son-Hing et al., 2007).
  • Most crashes happen close to home like on trips to the grocery store or mall. This is why even taking short trips to familiar places can be dangerous.

Watch these videos of how dementia can affect driving. 


Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

 


See how dementia can affect driving.

 
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 

 


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