Driving and Alzheimer’s Disease

Driving is a symbol of freedom, control, independence, and autonomy for most people. Driving allows most people to travel to where they want and see who they want when they need to. Driving is a complicated skill. Changes in our cognitive, physical, and emotional conditions can affect our ability to safely drive.

What can my driving be affected by having Alzheimer’s disease?

You might be able to recognize early warning signs that Alzheimer’s may be affecting your driving ability. For example, you might:

  • You may need more assistance with directions or learning a new route.
  • Are you having trouble remembering where your car is or where it is going?
  • Take a detour on roads that weren’t familiar to you.
  • You have difficulty turning, especially left ones.
  • You may feel confused exiting a highway or by traffic signs like a four-way stop.
  • For moving violations, you will be issued a citation
  • You might be hounded by other drivers who are more likely to honk at you.
  • If you see a green light, stop and brake.
  • Get out of your lane.
  • You may have less control over your muscles, making it more difficult to turn the steering wheel or push the pedals.
  • You may find dents or scrapes on your vehicle that you are unable to explain.
  • You may be asked questions about your driving safety by others.
  • Controlling your anger, sadness, and other emotions can have a negative impact on your driving ability.

These warning signs could be a sign of something more serious.

You should consult your doctor if you experience warning signs like those mentioned above. Referring to a specialist in driver rehabilitation may be necessary if you feel the need. Driving becomes more dangerous as the disease progresses. Talk to your doctor about when it is time to stop driving.

What should I do if my driving ability is impaired by Alzheimer’s disease?

A driver rehabilitation specialist is available in many areas to conduct on-road and off-road testing to evaluate your driving skills. A specialist can also help you assess your driving abilities and advise you when it is unsafe. It is vital to understand how your driving ability changes over time to ensure safety for yourself and others. To find a driver rehabilitation specialist near you, go to www.aota.org/olderdriver and look up the name of a specialist in your area. To find an occupational therapist who has been trained in driving skills assessment or remediation, you can also call rehabilitation facilities and hospitals. These services may be available in nearby communities, depending on your location.

What should I do if I am forced to stop driving?

Even if you are forced to give up driving, you can still maintain your independence. Although it may require some planning by you and your friends, that planning will help you get to the places and people you want. You may find it reduces stress when driving. Consider:

  • Rides with friends and family;
  • Taxi cabs;
  • Vans or shuttle buses;
  • Public buses, trains and subways
  • Walking.

Ask a friend or relative to join you on public transport or walking trips. This will help you avoid confusion and ensure you get to where you need to be without getting lost. Senior centers, religious groups, and other local services often offer transportation services to older adults in your area.

Make sure you have your safety belt on

When you’re driving or riding in your car, always wear your safety belt. Always ensure that everyone riding along with you is also wearing a safety belt. Even if your car is equipped with airbags, you should still wear your safety belt.

Updated 01/24/22