Alzheimer’s patients driving privileges

One of the most difficult decisions regarding the care of a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is driving privileges, determining when they need to stop driving. I am painfully aware this is a controversial topic setting off heated debates about individual rights versus public safety. But if the question, “I wonder if Mom should be driving anymore?” is running through your head or spoken aloud (with your loved one’s name used, of course), there is a pretty good chance your Alzheimer’s patient should not be driving any longer.

The internet has an abundance of information regarding Alzheimer’s and driving (see following references), and the bottom line is that eventually all Alzheimer’s patients will need to stop driving due to mental decline. While no one argues this point, the problem is deciding exactly when the time is right to take away this privilege that most adults take for granted.

Safety outweighs individual rights and independence, and not just the safety of the Alzheimer’s patient, but the safety of innocent bystanders. I like the advice offered from the Mayo Clinic on this issue:

“If you’re not sure whether it’s safe for your loved one to drive, ask yourself whether you feel safe riding in a vehicle driven by the person who has Alzheimer’s — or if you’d feel safe having your loved one drive your children or others. If the answer is no, then you know it’s time for him or her to retire from driving.”

Think about it, if you would not allow your own child in a car with the Alzheimer’s patient, then that person certainly should not be on the road jeopardizing the safety of anyone else’s children either.

When the time does come to stop an Alzheimer’s patient from driving, enforcing that decision can be worse than making it, as I know from experience. Once again, there are many good tips on how to do this: prepare alternative transportation for the Alzheimer’s patient’s needs, get a doctor or authority figure to insist the patient stop driving, have the state require a driver’s test, remove or disable the car, or hide the keys.

All great ideas, but sometimes a difficult Alzheimer’s patient will defy all these efforts due to the very nature of the disease, denial of illness, or sheer stubbornness, as my own mother did. I can say with certainty that taking away my mother’s car was the most difficult issue my family had to face regarding her care, even though we diligently planned and prepared for the task.

The decision to take away the driving privileges of an Alzheimer’s patient can be fraught with unexpected difficulties that need to be carefully considered before any plan is undertaken. The reactions of an Alzheimer’s patient threatened with the loss of their independence cannot fully be estimated due to their mental instability, however necessary the course of action. As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, you have an obligation to do the right thing for the safety of the patient and others. Along with all the other tips offered to make a smooth transition, be sure to line up medical professionals ready to offer assistance if plans go astray for reasons you cannot anticipate.

References: Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer’s Association, MSNBC
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