How to Talk to Elderly Parents About Driving

talking to elders with alzheimer's and dementia about driving

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), patients’ symptoms are often mistaken for age-related memory loss, not an ailment. Patients may not realize that they have a progressive disease and are beginning to show signs that indicate more serious cognitive impairment. As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, it presents challenges that affect critical areas of a patient’s daily life, especially driving.

Many of us want to put the brakes on having the conversation about no longer driving with our elderly parents. It’s a difficult topic to touch on because we don’t want to take that independence away from our parents. If you are starting to spend more on traffic tickets or collision repairs for your parent, though, it’s time to talk to them about alternative means of transportation.

Tips to Approach the Dangers of Driving With Your Parent

For Alzheimer’s patients in the early or “mild” stage of the disease, coping with the knowledge of AD is very difficult, as they know eventually they will have to rely on others to provide care for them. Driving is one form of independence that many patients want to hang on to as long as possible. No one wants to hang up their keys for good.

When talking to your elderly parent about no longer driving, consider the following tips for approaching the topic in a polite, respectful way:

    • Start the conversation as a way to talk about your concerns. Tell your loved one there are great alternatives for transportation, and stress the positives by saying something like “using a car service is like having your own chauffeur.”
    • Appeal to your loved one’s sense of responsibility. Cognitive ability is still highly functional at this stage, and no one wants to endanger someone else’s life on the road.
    • If needed, get an evaluation from an objective and professional third party. For example, you could ask your parent to take a senior driving exam. You could also ask your elderly parent’s doctor for a note or prescription that states “no driving.” This helps give your point of view authority over continued driving by the patient.
    • If your loved one expresses resistance to the idea of giving up driving, be understanding. If your places were reversed, you probably wouldn’t want to give up your keys either. Approach them by saying, “I understand the idea of giving up driving is scary. I wouldn’t suggest it if I wasn’t worried about your safety” and offer alternatives to driving. Always show them you’re coming from a place of love.
    • Recognize that this is the beginning of what could be many conversations about driving.

Approach the topic when you and your family feel that your parent’s driving is impaired. Everyone’s situation is different. According to the Alzheimer’s Association position statement on driving safety, a diagnosis of AD alone should not be considered grounds to revoke a patient’s driving privileges. Furthermore, a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that in their study group, 88% of those with very mild dementia could still pass a driving exam. Being recently diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s or Dementia does not mean an immediate end to driving, only that it is time to seriously start the conversation about giving up the keys.

Talk About Giving Up Driving Sooner Rather Than Later

While you might have some time to speak with your loved one about the dangers of driving when cognitively impaired, your loved one will have to give up driving for their safety and others as the disease progresses. Consult your parent’s doctor about the degree of cognitive decline and prescription medication that may affect their ability to drive. Communication between your loved one, their doctor, and their caregiver should frequently occur to address when it is appropriate to end your parent’s driving privileges. We can help, our in home caregivers can assist with driving and transportation for everything from visiting the doctor to going grocery shopping.

If you are considering alternative means of transportation for your parent, contact us today.

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