Alzheimer’s need not bring driver’s freedom to an abrupt halt

Driving represents responsibility, independence and capability when parents first hand over the keys to young motorists. On the other hand, taking the keys away from a person with Alzheimer’s disease can be one of the most emotional situations a family faces.

“Being asked to give up that independence can put the person with Alzheimer’s in deep conflict with their loved ones,” says Kristin Martin-Cook, clinical research coordinator and support-group facilitator of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

With care, however, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s does not have to put a total halt on driving.

“The most important thing is to discuss the issue soon after diagnosis, when the person can fully participate in decisions,” Ms. Martin-Cook says.

Other suggestions include:

  • Start with moderate restrictions – perhaps driving only during the day, or only to certain places, or only with someone else in the vehicle.
  • Find other ways the patient can get around, like senior transportation services. This can maintain a sense of normal day-to-day activity.
  • Watch for physical changes that affect driving safety. These include changes in attention span, in hand-eye coordination, and in the ability to react quickly.
  • Enlist your health care provider’s help in talking about liability and safety. He or she can serve as the “bad guy” who’s taking the keys away. This may lessen or redirect the patient’s potential anger at loved ones.

Visit http://www.utsouthwestern.org/neurosciences to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in neurosciences, including the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of neurovascular and neuromuscular disorders.

November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.

Media Contact: Jeff Carlton

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