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Published on: May 2, 2016
by Insider Louisville:
As our loved ones grow older, their driving skills change. Reaction times slow down, visual cues become harder to see, and peripheral vision decreases. Spatial awareness can deteriorate and sometimes, even certain illnesses or medications can affect the mobility and concentration a person needs to safely operate vehicles.
For loved ones who are also experiencing dementia, particularly those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the abilities required to stay safe on the road are in even greater jeopardy.
“Alzheimer’s erodes some of the cognitive functions people need to drive safely,” said Paula Cates RN, Director of the Memory Care Unit at The Episcopal Church Home of Louisville. “It is more likely that a driver with Alzheimer’s will get lost, even in familiar environments, or have trouble judging distances and predicting traffic conditions than a driver who isn’t dealing with memory challenges. That’s why it’s imperative for friends, family members, and caregivers to address the issue as early as possible.”
But losing the ability to drive can be upsetting. Driving is a sign of independence and signifies competence, so it is understandably difficult for family members and caregivers to initiate a conversation about taking away the keys.
According to the Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, determining when someone can no longer drive safely requires consistent, careful observation by family members and caregivers. A few key signs, particularly with regular occurrence, that indicate it might be time to have a conversation include:
While it may not be easy to talk to a loved one about retiring the car keys, it is certainly preferable to the risk of allowing them to drive and unintentionally harming themselves or others. Leading local experts in Alzheimer’s and memory care recommend approaching the conversation with empathy, repeated affirmations of support, and patience. They also suggest backing up the conversation with specific directives from the patient’s doctor or considering an evaluation by an objective third party.
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