By Pamela D. Wilson, The Care Navigator, CSA, CG, MS, BS/BA
We love our cars. Some of us love the type of car we own and the way it looks; sporty, shiny or compact. For others it’s the way our cars make us feel when we’re driving; a convertible with the wind blowing through our hair. Others love the ability to jump in the car and go for a drive; the freedom and mobility a car provides.
As we age the first thing we notice is that we become more uncertain when driving at night. Our vision isn’t as sharp as it was when we were younger. As a result we drive less after dark. Then, depending on where we live, we may feel less confident driving on snowy or icy streets. As a result we stay home when the weather is bad. When we become forgetful, we limit our driving to a few blocks away from home to go to the grocery store or to run an errand. We limit our driving to what we believe to be familiar routes to avoid becoming lost.
Memory loss and driving can be a dangerous combination, just like drinking and driving. Those who drink and drive frequently underestimate the effect of alcohol on reflexes and responses; accidents occur. Those with memory loss underestimate the same effects. However due to memory loss they believe their driving skills are similar to the skills they possessed when they were young.
Those of us concerned hear the familiar, “I’ve been driving for 50 years and have never had an accident.” The person making this statement lacks insight into the reality that their abilities and reflexes have changed due to the faulty circuits in their injured brain because of a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
While giving up driving equates to giving up independence, there are greater considerations that we prefer to ignore. Memory impaired drivers’ think only of themselves. They fail to consider the child or pregnant woman they may injure in a car accident. They fail to consider the building or house into which they might drive if they confuse the gas and the brake pedal.
The memory impaired fail to consider that if there is a written diagnosis of memory loss in a medical chart, an injured party may sue and take every last penny of savings and retirement money because “why would a person diagnosed with memory loss choose to get behind the wheel of a 6,000 pound vehicle that could injure someone?” Poor judgment, the inability to evaluate information and to make reasonable and safe decisions are the effects of a diagnosis of memory loss; try to tell this to your loved one diagnosed with memory loss and they will argue with you that there’s nothing wrong with them until they take their last breath.
If you or a loved one has memory loss and you’re unsure whether you are safe to drive, there are special driving evaluations that can be completed. These are not given through the DMV but through driving assessment programs that test brain ability and reflexes. You might not like the results you receive, but at least you’ll receive an independent evaluation. In most cases this is what it takes for the memory impaired to give up driving because who wants to admit that a concerned family members or friend telling them they should give up the car keys may be right.
The Care Navigator serves caregiving families and individuals in Metro Denver and the Colorado Front Range. Through The Caring Generation®, a one of a kind online community of support for family and professional caregivers, Pamela D. Wilson offers an extensive library of expert interviews, educational podcasts, videos, articles and a forum to allow caregivers to connect with others in similar situations.
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