Should he be driving, still?

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The short answer? Probably not.

Families ask me often if I think that their loved one with dementia “should still be driving,” and my answer is usually, “almost-definitely-not.”

Here’s the problem with driving and dementia: even if your loved one can still get from point A to point B without a problem, it doesn’t mean that they are doing it safely. What does that mean? It means that with dementia comes a lot of different brain changes, and not all of them are immediately apparent. For example, dementia affects a person’s judgement, reaction time, and, often, depth perception. Judgement, reaction time and depth perception are three things that you definitely need to be able to drive safely!

So what if you decide that they shouldn’t be driving anymore? How do you take their keys away? Well, that’s a complicated answer, and it may depend on where you live.

In Pennsylvania, for example, a doctor generally is the one to declare someone unfit to drive. They will then send that information to PennDot (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) and that person’s license could get revoked on the spot. More likely, however, they will be called in to take a driver’s test. The driver’s test can be taken up to three times, so if they fail, they can try again to get the license back.

In essence, a trip to the doctor should be your first plan. Don’t waste a lot of time trying to “convince” someone with dementia that they are unfit to drive. We all know that trying to convince someone with dementia of something doesn’t usually work! And, their judgment is impaired: they may think they are fine to drive!

Here’s the other thing you should know: if you are the Power of Attorney, and they are documented unfit to drive, or have a revoked license, YOU could be liable if they get into an accident. 

My main point is this: don’t let someone drive around just because you’re too afraid to take the next step and have their license revoked.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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