Getting your driver’s license is the first satisfying rush of freedom we get when we’re young. It allows us to be independent away from our families for the first time. It’s one of the greatest joys of our young lives. But it’s also one of the first things to be taken away when we get older.

As we age and are unable to safely and independently get ourselves around, driving a vehicle just isn’t in the cards. Sadly, in dementia patients, that day may come sooner than later when they have to hand over the keys. Being unable to drive doesn’t mean they need to go to a memory care facility, just that they’re not capable of safely operating a motor vehicle.

However, this paired with other factors could mean it’s time to contemplate memory care options.

Caretakers and families may face a lot of reluctance and stubbornness when this day comes. So we’re here with some helpful tips to calmly convince your elderly folks to quit driving for good and what to do if they refuse.

elderly woman with dementia and driving

Dementia and Driving Statistics

There is a strong positive correlation between traffic accidents and age. And with age being one of the most common attributions of dementia, you can see why there might be a high percentage of individuals with dementia being involved in car accidents.

One study, in particular, set out to find the exact likelihood of a crash with someone who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia vs. those who are just older. Their findings showed a 47% prevalence rate in crashes from drivers who had Alzheimer’s out of a group of 30. Compare this to 10% of people of the same age without Alzheimer’s or dementia, and you’ll see that people with dementia are 2 to 8 times more likely to get in an accident while driving.

It is important to note that not all drivers with dementia are incapable of driving, particularly in the earlier stages, but it must be monitored closely. To do this, loved ones, caregivers, and medical staff can watch for sure signs that might indicate someone’s dementia is affecting their life to the point where they can no longer drive for their safety and the safety of others.

Behavioral Signs to Watch Out For

Some early signs of dementia can be the first clear signs that someone should not be driving or even living independently. Part of being a caregiver or watching out for a loved one is knowing the early signs of dementia, plus behaviors that might indicate that something is wrong.

Driving isn’t the only thing that a dementia patient should stop doing when they start exhibiting these signs, but it can be one of them:

  • Getting lost in familiar places and not finding their way home. This could also happen with directions or following maps. They may get confused and end up in a neighborhood they don’t recognize.
  • Getting lost while driving, even if it’s somewhere familiar to them as their own neighborhood or usual route. 
  • Driving under the influence of medications or forgetting to take their medication altogether can be very dangerous for anyone, especially older adults.
  • Repeatedly getting into minor accidents, like fender benders or hitting the curb.
  • Having trouble seeing well or reacting quickly while driving. This can be due to vision problems caused by dementia as it progresses.
  • Displaying aggressive or angry behaviors when someone tries to talk to them about not driving. This could include cursing, yelling, and even physical altercations.

elderly couple with dementia and driving looking for directions

Other behavioral signs that can show that dementia is progressing in general include:

  • Poor coordination
  • Needs to be reminded to take care of themselves (bath, brush teeth, get dressed)
  • Has big mood swings
  • Has trouble multitasking
  • Has difficulty processing information or making decisions
  • Being less alert about their surroundings
  • An increase in memory loss, particularly short term

If you notice any of these signs, it can be a good indicator that this person might not be able to live as independently as they once did, which includes driving themselves.

memory loss symptoms

Preventing Accidents in the Elderly

Now accidents happen, of course, but there are steps to take to try and prevent things from happening with elderly dementia patients. However, many older individuals, especially those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, will show some reluctance and stubbornness when it comes to handing over the reins. Luckily, caregivers or families can do some things to slowly begin to help and prevent dangerous situations.

Plan Ahead

If you can get access to someone’s calendar or schedule or create one to find out when they usually run errands, go to appointments, meet up with friends, etc., you can interject yourself into the plans. For example, invite yourself out for a day of running errands and shopping. If you make it a fun activity, then you can hopefully drive them yourself, or as a passenger, be able to monitor their driving and see if it is indeed time for them to give up driving.

Provide Resources and Assistance

One way to help people transition to a new lifestyle is to provide all the resources and assistance they may need so they don’t have to worry about it. If your loved one with dementia is reluctant to give up driving or other independent tasks, reassure them that having someone to help is not a bad thing; it will offer them companionship and a friend to do things with. It doesn’t mean they have lost their independence—they just need a helping hand.

Have the Tough Conversations Early On

Having those hard conversations later in the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s will be so much more complicated than having them at the first signs of illness. As dementia progresses, people can get anxious, depressed, agitated, and even aggressive—especially if you try to get them to do something they don’t want to do. So keep that list of behavioral changes in mind as you treat or spend time with someone who is aging and showing signs of dementia.

Father and son talking about dementia and driving

Find the Right Facility or Caregiver for Them

One of the most stressful parts about transitioning into a more dependent lifestyle due to dementia is finding the people and places that will care for this person. Doing the research early on and getting interviews with some of the best people or facilities in the area can help ensure when the time comes, there’s a place for them to go where they’ll be well cared for and ease them into their new home.

When their driving, independence, and home are all taken away at once, you’ll want to eliminate as much stress as possible from the situation, and planning ahead to find the right place early on can help.

close-up shot of caregiver and elderly woman

When and How to Take the Keys Away

Now that we know some of the signs to look out for, how do we go about convincing our loved ones with dementia to stop driving? It’s important not to come across as accusatory or condescending when you speak to them about this issue.

  • Start the conversation by asking your loved one with dementia what they think of their ability to drive and how often. Let them know that it’s normal for people in general as we age, not just those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, to have trouble driving safely. 
  • Point out the dangers of continuing to drive and how it could affect not only themselves but also their loved ones.
  • If they are still resistant, provide them with resources like a list of safe driving practices or an article about elderly drivers and safety. Let them know you’re there to help in any way you can, and be patient as this might be a tough conversation to have.
  • If they still refuse or are getting angry, it may be time to take the keys away from them and help them find alternative ways of being independent when possible. This might include arranging for transportation if they need something outside of their home, limiting driving at night when there’s less visibility, etc.

Image Of senior man with dementia and driving Handing Over his car Keys to Someone Younger for safety

It’s important to remember that everyone handles change differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to convincing a loved one with dementia to stop driving. Patience, understanding, and open communication will be critical as you help them through this challenging transition.

And part of supporting them during this time is finding them a place to live like Sunflower Communities that can seamlessly allow them a semblance of independence while also supporting them with activities, memory care, and, yes, transportation.

If you’re interested in more information on how you can best support your loved one with dementia with a quality senior community, contact us today!