6 Tips to Get Your Parent with Dementia out of the Driver’s Seat

Amy Natt
February 18, 2019

6 Tips to Get Your Parent with Dementia out of the Driver's Seat


Do you have a parent with dementia that refuses to stop driving and you’re worried about their safety?

A dementia diagnosis doesn’t automatically mean the loss of a driver’s license. As long as your parent’s symptoms are mild, and they are driving safely, they could still be allowed to drive. 

No longer being able to drive is going to have a significant impact on your parent’s independence. Day-to-day life will change — socializing with family and friends, grocery shopping, doctor visits, and basic errands will all be much harder.

You have a responsibility to help keep them safe, even if it means that life will get harder for everyone. But how do you know when it’s time to take the keys? And how do you make that transition smoother? Let us show you.

Parents with Dementia & Driving: 6 Tips

Should you push and insist that your parent stop driving? How do you know when it’s time to step in and take their keys — even if they aren’t ready to give them up?

This conversation is going to be hard, but if your parent is a danger to themselves or others on the road, then it’s a conversation you need to have. Let us show you how to assess the situation correctly and we’ll also share some tips on how to navigate this difficult choice.

1. Understand How Dementia Impacts Driving

Dementia sufferers are 3-5 times more likely to be involved in a car accident than their peers. Dementia impacts the brain in various ways. To understand the impact dementia will have on your parent’s driving ability, you will need to learn what the symptoms of the disease are.

Some symptoms of dementia include:

  • memory loss and forgetfulness
  • difficulty completing tasks with several steps
  • periods of disorientation or confusion
  • forgetting words or saying a different word than the one they meant
  • trouble with numbers and knowing what to do with them
  • poor judgment
  • difficulty judging distance or direction
  • frequently misplacing their belongings
  • changes in their mood or personality.

All of these symptoms can be extremely dangerous when you mix them with driving. Suffers can experience difficulties like these while driving:

  • Trouble discerning how far away a red light or stop sign is.
  • Confusion or disorientation about their location.
  • Inability to remember basic driving rules.
  • Lack of instinctual concepts that many long-term drivers use easily like operating the wipers or using a turn signal.
  • Difficulty trying to understand or remember speed limits.
  • Agitation, if they are pulled over that, can result in unpleasant altercations with law enforcement.

2. Know When it’s Time to Stop Driving

“My Husband recently received a dementia diagnosis. He has gotten lost a couple of times, but can usually ask for help and find his way home. He does not want to give up his driver’s license, but our daughter has expressed some concerns for his safety. How do we know when it’s time to take away the keys?”

Someone with mild dementia might still be safe to drive for a while before it becomes an issue that needs addressing. No matter how mild their symptoms are, they will still need to be monitored with driving assessments periodically. 

As the disease progresses, their symptoms will get worse, and you will want to remain vigilant so you catch it before they get hurt.

How do you know if they are still ok to drive? 

Ask them to take you somewhere and pay attention to their driving. 

  • Are they stopping at red lights and stop signs, staying in the lines, and parking without difficulty? 
  • Do they seem to get distracted or confused at all? 
  • Are they reluctant to drive with you in the car or make excuses every time you ask? 

Any of these could be a sign that they are already having trouble. Maybe they are afraid of having an accident or getting lost with you in the car. They might worry you will judge them, take their keys away, or that they could hurt you if they wreck.

3. Talk to Your Parent

If you are concerned that they are hiding minor accidents, tickets, or other problems while driving, it’s time to have the talk. The important thing to remember is not to make them feel like they are incompetent. 

Keep in mind how you would feel in their place when talking and remain calm. 

If they become upset, remind them that you are only concerned about their safety, and you don’t want to see them get hurt or hurt someone else. Talk about other options for transportation and work through their concerns for emergencies, day-to-day travel needs, and other situations that are bothering them.

4. What To Do If They Don’t Listen

You tried talking. You said all the right things, and you kept your cool despite how mad or upset they got, but they refuse to listen. 

Their safety is the most important thing to keep in mind in this situation. 

If your parent is having accidents and getting tickets, or their symptoms have progressed, it’s time to take the keys. You don’t want to be the “bad guy,” but you have to do what is best for them and the other drivers on the road.

So, what do you do when your parent doesn’t stop driving? 

You can hide the keys when they are sleeping. If they ask, tell them you don’t know where they are and help them look. Once they have been declared lost for good, tell them you’ll get another set made, but you aren’t sure how long it will take. After awhile your parent might stop asking about it on her own.

If that doesn’t work, you could replace the set with ones that don’t work and disable the car if you have mechanical knowledge. You could also hide the car and tell her it’s in the shop, or say another family member really needs it for work or school.

What if none of those suggestions work? 

As a last resort, ask them to take an assessment at your local DMV. If they refuse to go, you can anonymously report them as an unsafe driver. The DMV will require that they come in for a driving assessment, and it will take the decision out of your hands.

Recommended Reading: Dementia & Driving: A Difficult Conversation

5. Check Into the Laws and Regulations for Your State

Every state has its own laws for driving after someone has been diagnosed with dementia. In most states, a doctor or family member can contact the DMV and request that their loved one re-take the driver’s test. 

In some states, doctors are required by law to notify the DMV when someone has received a dementia diagnosis. 

You will need to check with your local DMV to find out what the laws and regulations are in place for your state. If you don’t want to call the DMV yourself, talk to your parent’s doctor and see if they will make the call for you.

6. Plan to Help After They Stop Driving

Once your parent has stopped driving, you will need to help them come up with alternative sources for transportation. Offer to drive them yourself when you’re able, and ask other relatives or friends if they can pitch in. Come up with an availability calendar for your parent so they will know whom to call when they need a lift. 

If your parent is still in the early stages of dementia and can safely travel alone, public transportation services could be an option. Check out ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft, or help her get a taxi. You can check with your local taxi company and see if they will allow you to set up a payment account so your parent doesn’t have to handle any of the money. 

Is your parent not able to safely travel alone? Check for senior and special needs transportation services that are offered in your area. One resource you can use to help you find transportation options is the eldercare locator website — Eldercare Locator: Transportation.

Aging Life Care managers offer transportation services too. Someone who has dementia might not be able to schedule pickups on their own and will require additional assistance. A family member might need to make the arrangements for them or hire an Aging Life Care Manager to escort them to their destination.

Aging Life Care Managers can help your parent get to where they need to be, but they can also help with having the initial discussion about giving up the keys. Contact us to speak to a member of our team to schedule a free consultation with one of our Aging Life Care Managers.

Life is Changing — Learn to Keep Up

Helping your parent stay independent as long as possible is ideal, but when it’s time to take the keys, don’t be afraid to put your foot down and step in. It’s ok to intervene when there is evidence that her safety and the safety of other drivers are at risk with her on the road. 

Just remember to stay calm and don’t talk down to her. Avoid confrontations when possible, and follow the tips above to help you take control of the situation. 

Driving isn’t the only problem that you will encounter as your parent’s dementia progresses. You need to keep up with the latest research and learn everything you can about the disease so you will know how to help her at every stage. Sign up for our newsletter to be alerted when new articles, like this one, are posted on our blog.

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