Post image for Are We Forcing Those With Memory Loss to Relinquish Driving Too Soon?

Last week I wrote about memory loss and driving.  When researching this topic, I learned there are no national policies or even guidelines in place regarding cognitive loss and driving.  However, a handful of states, including California, Oregon, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have instituted mandatory reporting laws.

In those states, when a physician determines a person is cognitively impaired — even in the very early stages — that doctor is obligated to report this diagnosis to the state department of motor vehicles.

Some memory loss experts are now questioning if this automatic response might not be necessary for everyone.  They say the emphasis should be on driving ability rather than diagnosis.

For some individuals, could we taking the car keys away too soon?

After all, driving is a learned skill that becomes ingrained over time.  This is probably why in the earliest stages of the disease, the accident rate for a person with Alzheimer’s is comparable to those who do not have the disease.  And, since the disease progresses differently from person to person, a recently diagnosed individual with mild memory loss may be able to continue driving without difficulty for a period of time.

It’s important to note, the decision should be determined by the person’s current abilities and not by the desire to keep driving.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends a third-party, independent driving assessment to determine capability and judgment.

While this is not traditional driver’s test, this assessment should be conducted by a professional (often an occupational therapist) with specific training for those with memory loss.  If this type of evaluation is not available, the caregiver can contact the state motor vehicle agency for a special evaluation.

If the person passes the assessment, the family should established specific driving parameters, such as:

  • Only drive during the daylight hours
  • Never drive in poor weather conditions
  • Stick to familiar routes and steer clear of freeways or heavily trafficked roads
  • Avoid situations that add stress, such as transporting others
  • Conduct frequent driving evaluations, at least every six months

Continuing to drive straddles a fine line of empowering the person with memory loss and protecting the person and others.

When my mother, who died last year after living with Alzheimer’s for eight years, started to show memory issues, I knew nothing about a driving assessment.  Instead, my sisters and I asked ourselves: Do we feel comfortable riding in the car with Mom?  Would we trust Mom to drive others, including children or loved ones?

For all three of us, the answer was ‘no’ to both questions.  Even though Mom resided in a small, rural town with just three stop lights and drove only a few times a week, we knew she should no longer be behind the wheel.  We didn’t need a driving evaluation, we simply knew.

Driving with memory loss isn’t a simple, one-size-fits all decision.  The decision is not whether to give up driving, but when to give up driving.

Above all, safety must trump everything.

*Photo Purchased From iStockPhoto

{ 0 comments }

Be Sociable, Share!

Alzheimer’s Disease and When to Have the Driving Conversation

December 10, 2014
Thumbnail image for Alzheimer’s Disease and When to Have the Driving Conversation

Imagine how you would feel if you could no longer drive. The ability to get in your vehicle and go where you want, when you want is no longer available. Your freedom, autonomy and mobility are gone, and suddenly you must count on others for all your transportation needs. As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, I went […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Thankful for Mummy

November 26, 2014
Thumbnail image for Thankful for Mummy

My mother died one year ago today.  In some ways it seems as though she left this world decades ago and at other times it feels like yesterday.  Death takes a long time to process, even if the person has been fading away for years. My relationship with Mom wasn’t an easy one.  We often […]

10 comments Read the full article →

The Human Brain: A Three-Pound Wonder

November 20, 2014
Thumbnail image for The Human Brain: A Three-Pound Wonder

The human brain.  It weighs just over three pounds and is made up of more than 100 billion neurons.  It’s often called the control center, engine or computer of the body. Whatever name you give it, the brain calls the shots. Until very recent years, the human brain was largely a mystery, but within the […]

1 comment Read the full article →

What to Buy for Christmas When Mom, Dad or Someone You Love Has Alzheimer’s

November 12, 2014
Thumbnail image for What to Buy for Christmas When Mom, Dad or Someone You Love Has Alzheimer’s

It’s almost mid-November and the holidays are fast approaching.  As I write this post, stores across the country are getting ready for Black Friday and the shopping season that follows. But what if someone in your family has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia?  What if he or she can no longer enjoy a […]

9 comments Read the full article →