Dementia and Driving Don't Mix
Although he is reluctant to make blanket statements about driving ability, John C. Morris, MD, professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine, agrees. "These patients need to be re-evaluated every six months because eventually every Alzheimer's patient will be an unsafe driver," he says. Morris was not involved in drafting the guidelines but says he served as a reviewer for the guidelines.
Louise H. Allen, PhD, says it slowly became apparent to her that her husband's driving days were winding down. He was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and he was having trouble recognizing his children. Her clandestine reviews of the checkbook showed that he had trouble keeping track of the finances.
For the first three months after the diagnosis, he continued to drive -- but not alone. "I pretty much insisted on being with him," Allen says.
But she also had a long-term plan that would curb his driving. When his driver's license renewal came in the mail, she hid it until the renewal time expired. That meant her husband, a retired professor at the University of Illinois, would have to go down to the motor vehicles department and re-take his tests. When it became obvious he could no longer pass the written test, he decided it was time to sell his car.
Not all drivers hang up their keys this gracefully, especially when they may be the primary drivers in their household. "I was very lucky," says Allen, herself a retired professor from the same university.
Joyce Bascom says her husband's driving skills also seemed to diminish very silently. "Wes was first diagnosed about five years ago," she tells WebMD. For some time he continued driving and working at the rental car agency with no problems, she says. Then one day she had to take her car in for repairs, so he followed her in his car.
"He was just driving very, very slowly so I told him that I would drive his car back. When I got in the car I discovered there were no brakes. None. That's when I knew he had to stop driving," she said.