Parkinson’s Disease: Driving a Car
Tips for People With Parkinson’s Disease
If you have early-stage Parkinson’s disease and hope to continue driving as long as possible, it’s essential to keep up regular exercise that maintains the muscle strength you need to operate a vehicle. It’s also essential to meet with your doctor and ask him or her about:
- Medications and other treatment, such as deep brain stimulation, that may treat your symptoms.
- Medication side effects that can interfere with driving safety.
- Referral to a center or specialist who can give you an off-road driving test.
To find a local specialist, contact the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists at 866-672-9466 or visit their web site. Your local hospital or rehabilitation center may help you find an occupational therapist who can assess your driving skills. In addition, your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) may offer driver evaluations.
If you have early-stage Parkinson’s disease and early-stage or mild dementia -- and wish to continue driving -- you should seek an immediate evaluation of your driving skills. People with moderate-to-severe dementia should not drive. Some states automatically revoke the licenses of everyone diagnosed with moderate-to-severe dementia.
If you pass a driving evaluation, it doesn’t mean that you can continue driving indefinitely. Because symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and dementia usually worsen over time, it’s important to be re-evaluated every six months and stop driving if you do not pass the test.
Tips for Families and Caregivers
If a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease -- with or without associated cognitive impairment -- certain day-to-day behavior can indicate an inability to drive safely. Watch carefully for the following signs:
- Poor coordination
- Difficulty judging distance and space
- Disorientation in familiar places
- Inability to handle multiple tasks
- Inattention to personal care
- Increased memory loss, especially short-term memory loss
- Frequent mood swings, confusion, and irritability
- Decreased ability to process information, solve problems, and make decisions
Even if an independent evaluation shows that your loved one can drive safely, it’s still important to continue monitoring his or her driving skills to detect problems that could lead to a serious accident. Warning signs include:
- Driving too slowly
- Stopping in traffic for no apparent reason
- Ignoring traffic signs
- Getting lost along a familiar route
- Difficulty executing turns and lane changes
- Drifting into other traffic lanes or driving on the wrong side of the street
- Forgetting to signal or signaling incorrectly
- Not noticing other vehicles, pedestrians, or road hazards
- Becoming drowsy or falling asleep behind the wheel
- Parking inappropriately
- Getting tickets for traffic violations
- Getting into near-miss situations, fender benders, or other accidents
Any of these warning signs could indicate that it’s time for your loved one to stop driving. It’s important to discuss any concerns you have with your loved one and his or her doctor.