Dementia and Driving Don't Mix
Soon after this incident, her husband took the family van very early one morning. "I found out about that when I got a call from a woman who told me that my husband had pulled into a gas station, lost. He asked her to call home and gave her a phone number. It was his mother's phone number," says Bascom. In a final misadventure, her husband drove to the airport; once there, he became confused and was detained by airport security, she says.
Her husband's car is now being kept at another location, and Bascom says she plans to sell it. "He sometimes asks me, 'Where is my car?' and I just tell him it's in the shop being fixed," she says.
Bascom's story is typical, says Dubinsky; driving is a very emotional issue, and taking away driving privileges can severely limit mobility.
"We have a big problem nationwide because we don't have good public transportation, and it can be quite difficult to live an independent life without driving," says Dubinsky. Nonetheless, he says that physicians need to step in and tell the patient that he or she can not longer drive. Since the issue is so emotionally charged, "it's better for the physician to 'take the blame,'" he says.
Susan, who asked for anonymity, says taking the blame is a big issue. She says that her father, Walter, deteriorated over a very brief period of time, during which he made several desperate attempts to "get home -- home being the south side of Chicago where he [lived] many years ago," she says. His children were terrified by what could happen to him.
After one such episode, one of Susan's sisters exercised a durable power of attorney and had Walter admitted "to a secure Alzheimer's unit. ... Our whole family has been in upheaval," says Susan. She says that she is glad the AAN is issuing guidelines so that "other families may be spared."
Dubinsky adds that some states require physicians to inform the departments of motor vehicles about the need to prohibit driving. In California, for example, Alzheimer's disease is a diagnosis that must be reported to the DMV, which automatically revokes the patient's license. Patients are, however, allowed an appeal.