When a person has been diagnosed with dementia, making the decision to stop driving can be a difficult time for the individual, their families, friends, and healthcare teams.
Complex concerns come with determining when it’s time to hang up the keys: How can this topic be approached in a respectful way with loved ones? Can a plan be created for the future so that the person with dementia can continue to enjoy activities after they’ve decided to stop driving?
Dr. Mark Rapoport, geriatric psychiatrist, acting head of Geriatric Psychiatry at Sunnybrook, and one of the researchers behind a new Canadian online resource called the Driving and Dementia Roadmap shares insight into how individuals with dementia and those close to them can face this challenge together.
What is dementia?
Dr. Rapoport: Dementia occurs when a person experiences changes or a decline in memory, and the ability to think, problem solve, or make decisions, that are significant enough to affect their daily life and everyday activities. Although dementia is most common in older adults, it is not a ‘normal’ part of aging.
The Alzheimer Society of Canada says dementia impacts more than 600,000 people in Canada. It’s estimated that by 2030, one million Canadians will be living with dementia.
When is it time for a person with dementia to stop driving?
Dr. Rapoport: Some concerns around driving that are common with dementia can include forgetfulness or getting lost in familiar places. If a person is feeling unsure or anxious while driving or if there are any safety concerns expressed by family or friends about the individual’s driving abilities, it is important to seek information and the advice of a healthcare professional for next steps.
Some individuals with mild dementia may continue to drive safely and some may have to stop driving right away. It’s important to be aware that as the disease progresses, they will inevitably have to stop driving. It can be difficult to know exactly when driving has become or will become unsafe.
After receiving a dementia diagnosis, it is critical for the individual and their family to watch for changes in that person’s driving and consider whether they can continue to drive safely.
For people with moderate or severe dementia, driving is dangerous as the brain functions needed to react quickly and make rapid decisions for safe driving have deteriorated. By these stages, driving must stop.
What is the Driving and Dementia Roadmap?
Dr. Rapoport: The Driving and Dementia Roadmap or drivinganddementia.ca, is a free, online, and Canadian resource created to help older adults living with dementia, their family, friends, and healthcare teams, and provide them with information around the decision to stop driving.
The Driving and Dementia Roadmap was developed by researchers from Sunnybrook, Baycrest, and the Canadian Consortium of Neurodegeneration in Aging.
I have been working in the field of geriatric psychiatry for many years, and over time patients and families identified the need for easily accessible and credible information about driving and dementia and driving cessation. This is the first time that helpful materials have been curated into a one-stop-shop website that includes resources useful for all provinces and territories across the country.
The Driving and Dementia Roadmap website includes information, videos, worksheets, as well as strategies to help people living with dementia and their families navigate the challenging conversations, emotions, and planning that comes with the decision to stop driving.
Making a plan for the future
Driving cessation is a major life change for a person with dementia. There are often concerns about a loss of independence or identity.
It is important to include the individual with dementia in discussions about driving. This can help in creating a plan and making alternative transportation arrangements for when the person can no longer drive. The website provides strategies to ensure that the person with dementia continues to live a fulfilling life even after driving stops.
The Driving and Dementia Roadmap website doesn’t provide individuals with recommendations about their driving. It is for educational and informational purposes. Patients and families are strongly encouraged to reach out to a qualified healthcare provider with any concerns for their guidance, advice, and support as they navigate the driving and dementia journey.
For more information go to: drivinganddementia.ca