Driving with dementia: What you need to know

Our ability to get around is key to day-to-day life. Many of us need or choose to use a car to get to work, do the shopping or head away on the weekend. It’s important to assess if and how dementia is affecting one’s ability to drive – so we can all stay safe on the road.

Safe driving

Operating a vehicle safely requires a range of skills that all drivers are expected to have. These might include:

  • Good frontal and peripheral vision.
  • A quick reaction time.
  • Quick decision-making ability.
  • The ability to assess and make judgments about situations on the road.

Signs that dementia might be affecting someone’s ability to drive

It can be tricky to spot the early signs of dementia but there are several ways it can impair someone’s driving ability, including:

  • Driving very slowly.
  • Becoming confused when changing lanes or stopping.
  • Getting lost or forgetting familiar routes.
  • Ignoring or becoming confused about traffic light signals or signs.
  • Not making sound judgments about situations on the road.

These behaviours may have nothing to do with dementia, but if someone has been diagnosed as living with dementia then it would pay to keep an eye out for them.

Approaching someone about their driving

If someone you know is showing any of the signs above, it’s so important for their own safety and other road users that you raise it with them. Addressing this early allows them to make their own decisions about driving and how they want to get around in the future.

They may accept that their driving is being affected and decide to stop driving. However, it can be difficult for people to acknowledge a loss of driving skills and to understand that their dementia may be contributing to this decline. This can be a delicate issue but you must address it sooner rather than later.

Speak to the rest of your family and friends, or consider contacting the person with dementia’s GP, practice nurse, or specialist (ensure you talk to the person living with dementia first). The Police Traffic Unit may also be able to help, but this is far better as a last resort than as a first step.

Coping with change

Losing the ability to safely drive can be a big change, particularly for people who have been driving for their whole adult life. It may place new limits on their independence, which can cause frustration.

These are valid feelings for someone in this position, so hear them out and let them know that you understand where they are coming from.

If you are their support person, you could offer to help find alternative transport. If the person sells their car, that money could go towards taxis or ride-sharing apps. Companion driving service Driving Miss Daisy is a fantastic option for people living with dementia as they understand how to best communicate with and care for people with dementia. There are also plenty of support options available, including total mobility vouchers, disability allowances, volunteer agencies, and Age Concern. Some of these services may be available in your area, do a bit of research and see what the options are.

Dementia doesn’t stop you or a person living with dementia one from leading an active and mobile lifestyle. Everyone deserves the opportunity to embrace life, celebrate moments, and live life with dignity and joy.

About Dementia Auckland

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Dementia Auckland is a not for profit organisation dedicated to providing dementia support services and inspiring those living with dementia to make the most of life. Dementia Auckland provides a wide range of services and support across the greater Auckland region. Dementia Key Workers offer intensive support and practical strategies for the carer of a person with dementia, including home visiting, telephone consultations, and support groups. Visit www.dementiaauckland.org.nz for more info.

One comment

  1. Avatar

    so we can all stay safe on the road.