Written By:  Gayle Horton

Any person experiencing memory loss and forgetfulness may not be safe enough to drive on the road. I am surprised how many adult children continue to allow their parents to drive and do not think about the dangers involved.

Driving is powerful and it involves using a deadly piece of equipment, which symbolizes independence and a part of adulthood. But the focused concentration and quick reaction time needed for safe driving declines with age.

Alzheimer's disease accelerates this process dramatically. If you are caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's, you may need to rethink allowing them to drive.

Diminished short-term memory causes many drivers who have Alzheimer's to get lost, even in familiar areas. The most dangerous part of driving is the decline and the ability to judge distances and predict traffic problems. A driver who has Alzheimer's may also have trouble understanding all of the visual cues. An event like a person walking a dog on the sidewalk may distract the driver from watching the road and oncoming traffic or even worse not seeing a pedestrian.

The opinions from authorities vary on whether driving should be allowed after an Alzheimer's diagnosis. For some people, it may be easier to give up the wheel early on, when they can still grasp the potential hazards. On the other hand, people in the early stages of the disease may be able to safely limit their driving to short daytime trips in familiar surroundings.

If your loved one continues to drive consider the potential of them becoming an unsafe driver. Look for difficulty navigating to familiar places, changing lanes, or making turns. They may be confused by which pedal to use, brake or gas at appropriate times. Observing traffic signals and remembering what to do at the appropriate time can be very difficult for them. Their thinking and processing will be slower and making quick decisions of what to do if a car pulls out or a child runs into the street. Patient’s with Alzheimer’s experience visual disturbances and may hit the curb while driving or even cross over the yellow line. Older adults usually travel at a slower rate of speed which can anger other drivers on the road and cause an accident.

If you are not sure whether it is safe for your loved one to drive, ask yourself whether you would feel safe riding in a vehicle driven by this person. If you are still not certain; would you feel safe having your children ride with this person driving? If the answer is “No”, then you know it is time for him or her to retire from driving.

Ask the doctor to write a letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state recommending that your loved ones license be revoked. The older adult will receive a letter instructing them not to drive; and now it is up to you the children to take away the key’s or disable the vehicle.