Dementia & Driving: What to Do When Your Loved One Should Hang up the Keys


When you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, ensuring their safety is a top priority. Some safety measures, such as securing their home or checking in frequently, are subtle in nature and make it easier for your loved one to continue enjoying their independent lifestyle. Telling them it’s time to stop driving, however, can feel like a complete loss of freedom and ability.

“Everyone living with progressive memory loss will eventually need to step out from behind the wheel,” says Nancy Clanton, Community Relations Director at Tuscan Gardens® of Venetia Bay, a senior living community in Venice, Florida. “Even when loved ones realize this ahead of time, when the time comes to stop driving, the transition from this kind of independence can be very upsetting, and even met with resistance. For family members helping their loved ones through this difficult time, it’s important to understand the best ways for dealing with the changes, emotions and frustrations that can occur when a loved one is forced to stop driving.”

Danger Ahead: The Risks of Driving with Dementia

Driving requires good judgement, quick decision-making and fast reaction time. Unfortunately, dementia gradually diminishes these abilities, making it hard or impossible for individuals with the disease to accomplish complex tasks. Dementia also impairs a person’s visual-spatial discernment, ability to concentrate or the ability to complete actions that involve multitasking. When you’re driving, you have to think about steering, speed, turn signals, distance between yourself and other objects, responding to traffic lights and patterns and more. Even when some of these actions seem like second-nature, a brain deteriorated by dementia struggles to focus on one or two of these situations.

As dementia progresses, the risks of driving increase. Individuals with dementia are also prone to wander and become lost. When wandering occurs in a car, the consequences intensify. Memory loss makes navigation difficult, and declining cognitive function puts the individual and others at risk. Eventually, the only safe option for those with memory impairment is to stop driving.

Signs of Unsafe Driving

Since everyone experiences the symptoms of dementia differently, it’s hard to tell just when a loved one will no longer be able to drive. Pay close attention to your loved one’s actions and behavior, both inside and outside a vehicle, to help you determine if they’re no longer safe behind the wheel. Some warning signs include:

  • Trouble locating familiar places
  • Ignoring traffic signals and/or making poor decisions in traffic
  • Becoming angry or confused behind the wheel
  • Dangerous driving (hitting objects, crossing lines, etc.)
  • Poor coordination and difficulty judging distance
  • Becoming less alert to what’s going on around them
  • Becoming disoriented in familiar places
  • Having trouble making decisions

Talking to Your Loved One About Hanging up the Keys

When you notice these or other problems in your loved one’s driving or behavior, it’s probably time to have a conversation about their safety. As Clanton said, giving up driving can be difficult for your loved one, so you should prepare for the conversation and your loved one’s reaction. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it can help to introduce the subject by voicing your concerns about their safety, appealing to their sense of responsibility and emphasizing solutions to make up for this loss of independence.

In the best cases, your loved one will have already acknowledged the fact that they’ll need to stop driving long before they need to do so. If your loved one is in the earliest stages of dementia, you should consider signing a driving contract to help make this transition easier down the road. Another option is to continuously include your loved one in conversations about their driving ability and safety. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “A person often adjusts better if he or she is involved in discussions and decisions about when to stop driving.”

When the conversation goes poorly or if your loved one is resistant to the idea of no longer driving, it might require more than just your point of view to convince your loved one of the risks they face. Consider asking your loved one’s physician to write a letter stating their professional opinion on your loved one’s ability (or lack thereof) to drive safely. You can also have your loved one complete a driving evaluation with a rehabilitation organization or your state’s DMV to assess whether or not they should be on the road. (It’s also a good idea to have your loved one complete a driving evaluation every six months after they’ve been diagnosed with dementia.) If your loved one still refuses to stop driving after these measures, you may need to take away their car keys, disable their car or get rid of the car entirely.

To make the transition easier, ensure your loved one that you’ll help in every way you can to keep them living as independent a lifestyle as possible. Even if they can’t drive, there are solutions to help them maintain their independence and find alternative ways to get around. These include:

  • Have friends or family drive them to the store or doctor’s appointments
  • Use public transportation or a taxi service
  • Locate an eldercare organization that helps with transportation
  • Arrange for prescriptions and groceries to be delivered to their home
  • Ask their hair dresser or barber to make regular home visits
  • Visit your loved one often and plan family get-togethers at their home, so they continue to be socially involved

Support Throughout Your Caregiving Journey

“The challenges you face as a caregiver of a loved one with Alzheimer’s may continue to get harder,” says Clanton, “but you don’t have to face them alone. At Tuscan Gardens of Venetia Bay, our caring team is dedicated to helping families care for their loved ones by offering expert support and advice on memory care.

“If you’re unsure whether it’s time for your loved one to stop driving and would like to talk to someone trained in dementia care, we can help. If you’re having a hard time getting your loved one to agree to stay out from behind the wheel, we can offer guidance and advice that’s unique to your circumstances. Or, if you think it might be time for your loved one to transition to a secure memory care community, Tuscan Gardens provides a compassionate memory care program to enhance the lives of those with dementia and maintain their sense of dignity and self.”

Learn more about memory care at Tuscan Gardens of Venetia Bay. Stop by or give us a call today!

The Art of Living

At Tuscan Gardens® of Venetia Bay, we’ve mastered the art of living. We’ve perfected the balance of personalized support and an uplifting lifestyle, helping our residents experience independence, joy and meaning every day.

Offering supportive independent living, assisted living and memory care services for families in Venice, Florida, Tuscan Gardens of Venetia Bay was founded with one simple, yet profound goal – to create a community worthy of our parents. In all we do, we are guided by the principles of family, culture and engagement, working to represent the remarkable way of life our families deserve.

Luxury, intimacy, opportunity, passion and beauty combine to create what the Italians call sprezzatura – a culture of effortless elegance. The essence of our community is made up not only of mere aesthetics, but an artfully designed lifestyle to bring out the best of what each day has to offer. From dedicated care that respects residents’ individuality and dignity to a lifestyle that nurtures their love of life, Tuscan Gardens was built to be more than just a residence, but a place to call home.

To learn more about our comfortable, elegant community, contact us today!