When should someone with dementia give up driving?

Worried about someone you know and their ability to drive, either before or after a dementia diagnosis? These are the things you should look out for

Many people who are diagnosed with dementia will retain the learned skills needed to drive, but eventually, the illness will affect the brain so much that it can be dangerous to continue driving.

If you know someone who has been diagnosed, or even someone who hasn’t, but is starting to demonstrate some of the behaviours below, it might be time to have a difficult, but essential conversation with them about potentially giving up driving.

Spotting the signs

Determining when someone can no longer safely drive requires careful observation by family and carers. Look out for these signs:

- They might forget how to locate familiar places or get lost on their way home

- They fail to observe or understand traffic signs

- They make slow or poor decisions in traffic

- They drive at an inappropriate speed – either too fast or too slow

- They become angry or confused while driving, particularly if they’re not prone to road rage

- They start to hit curbs – a classic sign that they’re losing some of their spatial awareness

- They have poor lane control and struggle to move between them, or overtake

- They make errors at traffic lights, cross roads and roundabouts

- They confuse the brake and accelerator pedals

- They return from a routine drive later than usual

- They forget where their destination is while driving

Talking to them about their driving

This might not be an easy conversation (in fact it might be more than one conversation) especially if the person you’re worried about doesn’t seem to realise they’re having difficulties, denies them or blames other drivers for their mistakes. If you’re having the conversation with a parent or someone you’ve always respected, consider how humiliating it might feel for them to be told by someone much younger (and less experienced on the roads) that they are no longer safe behind the wheel.

How to start

Try something like this ‘I know how much your car means to you, but I also know how much you care about road safety and that you would want me to tell you if I thought it was time you gave up driving. Well, I think that time has come.’ If they seem surprised, gently give a few examples of some recent incidents that have worried you.

Appeal to their sense of responsibility ‘I know you might still think you’re safe on the roads, but if you did make a mistake and other people got hurt, imagine how dreadful you would feel?

Remind them that you are there for them to provide love and support (and a lift!) whenever possible.

Tell them about the other choices they still have to retain their independence, such as discounted railcards and buses – you could even have some leaflets ready for them to read.

Not convinced?

If they can’t accept it – or think you’re over-reacting – provide them with more evidence. For example,

1. Request a note from their doctor reiterating why they cannot drive.
2. Ask an objective third party, or even the driving authority to reassess their driving.

Say it again

If you do manage to persuade them, there’s always a possibility that they might forget this conversation and will try to drive again. Be patient and repeat the conversation as many times as necessary, but stay firm and focussed - safety comes first.

Remember, dementia doesn’t just cause driving problems, it can also cause mood and personality changes. Try not to take it to heart if your loved one becomes angry or frustrated as they struggling to understand what you’re telling them. You aren’t alone and you are doing the right thing.

Still not convinced?

For some people, giving up their car is like losing a limb, and they simply refuse to do it. If this sounds familiar, you might have to consider taking away their car keys or moving the car so they can’t see it or drive it. But before you do this make sure they have other ways to get around and aren’t left feeling trapped at home.

Find out how to declare a dementia diagnosis to the DVLA and what you should do with an unused licence by clicking here.