Dementia and Driving Skills

In England, a person with a dementia diagnosis must legally register with the Driver and Motor Vehicle Licensing Agency and notify his or her insurer.  Failure to do so can mean fines and loss of coverage.  Here in the U.S.  there is no national regulation for the dementia and driving skills combination.

For everyone’s safety, driving skills must include the ability to:

  • understand road signs
  • maintain focus
  • drive defensively
  • react quickly
  • recognize safety threats

Sometimes families do not get worried until they see an unmistakable pattern of accidents or “near misses.”  Struggles can be overlooked or dismissed.  Perhaps a spouse wonders why her husband has taken much longer to get home from a routine trip to the barber shop, but gets distracted by a phone call and forgets to question what happened.  Maybe a frazzled daughter defers a prickly driving conversation about her mother’s indifference to traffic signs until her sister will be in town.  When worrisome red flags appear, families must look more closely for indications that might be missed.

  • Forgetting directions
  • Making poor decisions changing lanes
  • Driving too fast or too slowly
  • Getting fearful,  angry or confused while driving
  • Struggling at intersections
  • Parking poorly

Of course being truly proactive means being aware of indicators of possible trouble before that first “near miss” or when there is tell-tale bright yellow paint from a pole scraped onto Dad’s car.   No one wants to consider the tragedies possible should someone with dementia confuse the brake pedal and accelerator.

The Alzheimer’s Association resources suggest that other behaviors may suggest the need for an assessment of driving skills.