Dementia and Driving: 9 Signs It’s Time to Give Up the Keys

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There is no question that people with moderate to severe dementia should not drive. However, some doctors and scientists, as well as advocates for people with dementia, say some people with mild forms can continue to operate automobiles—and should be allowed to do so to help preserve their sense of autonomy as long as possible.

But as dementia progresses, a driver’s skills will decline and he or she will become a threat to him- or herself, passengers, pedestrians, and other motorists. And people with dementia are often poor judges of their own driving ability and fail to recognize the danger they pose.

If you’re a caregiver of someone with dementia who continues to drive, be on the lookout for clues that his or her skills at the wheel should be evaluated or reconsidered.

Obviously, an accident—even a minor “fender bender”—or near miss in which the driver is at fault is a red flag. It may also be time for a driver to surrender the keys if he or she:

  • frequently drives too slow or too fast
  • gets lost driving to familiar destinations, such as the local supermarket
  • drifts into other lanes or drives too close to other moving or parked cars
  • parks crooked; bumps or scrapes curbs while parking
  • is slow to react to changing road circumstances, such as a pedestrian crossing ahead
  • hesitates at intersections, roundabouts, or rotaries
  • relies on passengers to play “copilot,” that is, point out stop signs, traffic lights, or hazards
  • starts receiving tickets for traffic violations