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How To Stop A Person With Dementia From Driving

Trying to reason with someone with dementia is near to impossible so trying to get this person to understand that they should not be driving can easily lead to many long and loud arguments.  So here’s a little help for you.

Tips on how to stop a person with dementia from driving – what you do to keep your senior loved one with dementia from driving depends on the severity of the disease at the moment.

  • for very mild dementia – a second person in the car may be necessary
  • hide or remove the car keys from the home
  • hide all items related to the person’s driving habits
  • tell them the car is in the shop
  • disable the car so that it won’t run
  • report the driver to the dmv

Our Tips On Keeping Someone With Dementia From Driving

Of course, the level of dementia determines what techniques you could use and what may work – each individual is unique therefore, each individual requires their own set of unique solutions.

The problem that I see with many of my friends and family who are dealing with someone with dementia is that they try to reason with that person.  But, the issue there is that it’s not prudent to think that you can reason with someone whose thinking pattern has become faulty.

What I’m trying to say here is that there usually is no way to reason with someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. 

So, that means that other tactics are needed (yes, I know even sneaky ones) to help that person be as safe as possible for their own sake and for the sake of others on the road.

  1. Hide or remove the car keys – if the dementia / Alzheimer’s is severe enough, removing or hiding the car keys is an option.  When your senior loved one begins searching for them or asks for them – you should be able to redirect them onto another topic or project.  Saying something like “Oh, well before you start looking for those keys, can you help me to make dinner?”  is an example of what you could say.  Again, this should only work if they are at the stage with their disease where they can be easily distracted and can forget that they were looking to drive somewhere.
  2. The car is in the shop – I know, this is another kind of “sneaky trick” but it does work.  When your elderly parent or senior loved one asks about the car you can simply say something like “It’s in the shop for repairs.”  Then redirect them to another topic and/or project.  Again, this only works if their disease is at the stage where they can forget from minute to minute what they were doing or saying, etc.  You would of course move the car to someone else’s driveway (where it can’t be seen or found by the person with dementia) or you could of course sell the car.
  3. Disable the car – if you can disable the car in some way, flat tire, pulling out a vital engine part, etc.  This may, at the very least, keep the person with dementia from driving at that very moment.  If you have a good relationship with your auto mechanic, you may want to ask him/her to be in “on the con” with you in case they are contacted by the person with dementia about how to fix the car.
    I know this may sound terrible to some but it’s important to understand that when you are dealing with someone with dementia, you are there to protect them – and allowing someone with these types of cognitive problems to drive can be not only dangerous to them and others but fatal as well.  No true friend would allow a drunk person to drive – why would those same rules not apply to someone with dementia?
  4. Report the driver to the DMV – a friend of mine did this for their father and it worked out great.  She did so anonymously so I would recommend that you do that as well.  This way, the person “responsible” would be invisible. 
  5. Hide all items associated with the car – I would also recommend to make sure that your own car keys, their car keys, any items at all related to the car and their driving habits be removed from their home.  Out of sight, out of mind (hopefully).  If your father wore a specific hat whenever he drove the car – hide the hat, etc.
  6. If it’s a very mild form of dementia – most all dementia starts off as very mild and then progresses.  So, if you or your senior loved one has been diagnosed with mild dementia and you want to be cautious (as you should be) you can set up the rule that from now on, whenever that person drives there must be a second person in the car as well. 

Again, I know that all of these seem very sneaky and like you’re playing a dirty trick on your loved one but please understand that you are doing these things for their safety.

Can Someone With Mild Dementia Drive?

If you or a senior loved one has just been diagnosed with dementia – it’s not necessarily a statement that you can no longer drive.  But, it does mean that the person’s driving abilities must be assessed and re-assessed frequently depending on how fast the disease progresses in them.

Mild dementia usually comprises of the following symptoms:

  • getting lost in familiar places
  • difficulty problem solving
  • personality changes
  • memory loss

All of these can (but may not necessarily) affect the physical act of driving but they can certainly contribute to problems with the driving task.

For example – getting lost in familiar places.  Although the person with dementia may be able to physically drive to the grocery store by him/herself – they may get lost on the way and because they have problems with memory loss and problem solving – they may not be able to find their way back home or even to another familiar location for help. 

And if their personality change includes becoming angrier and less patient – they may also end up in a road rage situation with other drivers which, these days, could end up in a number of terrible situations.

Should A Person With Moderate Dementia Drive?

Again, as the disease of dementia progresses, the symptoms that show up during the mild stage of the disease become even more severe and pronounced and normally, the added symptoms are normally paranoia and incontinence – which are both very common amongst those with dementia.

As I said earlier, all of these symptoms may not prevent the physical act of driving – but driving safely is the issue here, isn’t it? 

With these issues being present – I would encourage family members and friends to help that person to stop driving.

Can A Person With Dementia Continue To Legally Drive?

Here in the USA – each state has different legal rules when it comes to driving and specific illnesses, including dementia. 

In other parts of the world, they are not as lenient. 

In the UK – you must inform the DVLA that you suffer from dementia and if you do not and are found out you will be fined and if you are in an accident, you can be prosecuted.

In Australia – drivers are also required to advise their licensing authorities of their diagnosis as well.

It is surprising, at least to me, that there are not stricter rules concerning this issue but then again – there have not been as many studies on the topic as I believe there should be.  In one study by Dr Laura B. Brown and Dr. Brian R. Ott, they found that…

…there is probably a 2- to 8-fold greater risk of crashes for elderly drivers with mild to moderate dementia compared to those not demented. – US National Library of Medicine

I don’t think this should come as a shock to anyone – after all considering the symptoms that are normally found in persons with dementia it’s very easy to see how these symptoms can impede the driving tasks of anyone with that disease.

So again, I do urge you (if you have been diagnosed with dementia) to have your driving skills evaluated either through a rehabilitation program or the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).

USA Driving “Rules” For Someone With Dementia

Here is a list of driving “rules” in each USA state (source: dementiacarecentral.com)

Alabama – Alabama lets someone with dementia keep their license unless a request is made to the DMV by a licensed doctor, either for the license to be taken away or for the driver to be re-tested.

Alaska – Someone with a diagnosis of advanced dementia is not allowed to drive in Alaska. However, simply receiving a diagnosis does not result in a loss of driving privileges.  Families can request a retest of their loved one’s driving ability with the Alaska DMV should their loved one resist giving up the keys.

Arizona – Arizona has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  The Department of Transportation will retest a person with dementia if they receive a request to do so from law enforcement or a doctor. Families can notify the DOT of a possibly unsafe driver (but are not required to) through the Medical Review Program, which will investigate.

Arkansas – Arkansas has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Arkansas Driver Services will retest a person with dementia upon request by law enforcement, a doctor, or family member. The agency may request that your loved one’s doctor decide whether driving should be allowed.

California – Any diagnosis of dementia must be reported by a doctor to the California DMV. Family members are not required to report. A re-test of the individual’s abilities will determine if they can continue behind the wheel.

Colorado – Colorado has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Doctors, law enforcement, and immediate family can submit a request for re-examination to the Colorado DMV. Part of the medical reevaluation is a form filled out by the driver’s doctor, asking whether the driver can safely handle a motor vehicle.

Connecticut – Connecticut has a law that requires persons in the early stages of dementia to have periodic re-evaluations of driving ability. The re-evaluation process must include a doctor’s assessment.  Family members can also request a re-evaluation here.

Delaware – Delaware has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. Doctors, law enforcement and civilians can all request a special evaluation of a driver’s ability by the DMV’s Medical Program.

Florida – Florida has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Physicians and family member can request a re-evaluation of the driver’s ability with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. An advisory board reviews each case, including an opinion by the driver’s doctor, to determine next steps.

Georgia – Georgia has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Anyone can submit a request for driver review to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, which will require an evaluation by a doctor within 30 days.

Hawaii – Each island has slightly different rules. Generally, drivers are asked that if they have conditions including Alzheimer’s, they self-report and provide a DOT medical report form completed by a doctor. To report an unsafe driver, click here.

Idaho – Idaho only moves to revoke driving privileges from someone with dementia if asked to do so by a doctor. Doctors might report an unsafe driver to the Idaho DMV, but there is not an official form to do so.

Illinois – The Illinois Secretary of State’s office must be notified within 10 days of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and an investigation will begin. Only law enforcement can ask for an investigation into a possibly unsafe driver.

Indiana – Indiana has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.   Doctors and family members can choose to file a Request for Driving Ability Review with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Iowa – Iowa has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Anyone in Iowa can request a driving reexamination from the state’s Office of Driver Services, which will require a test and a note from a doctor.

Kansas – Kansas has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Persons can submit a letter of concern to the Kansas Department of Revenue vehicles division about a driver in Kansas, who is then asked to take a test and provide a note from a doctor vouching for ability to drive.

Kentucky – Kentucky has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. If the Kentucky Medical Review Board receives an unsafe driver report, they will investigate and require documents from a doctor vouching for ability to drive.

Louisiana – Louisiana has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. However, if a doctor or concerned neighbor files a Report of Driver Condition or Behavior, an investigation will be conducted by the Louisiana transportation office and may result in driving restrictions or revocation of license.

Maine – Maine has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Anyone can report a possibly unsafe driver to Maine’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and the driver will need to submit a medical examination, and maybe take a driving test.

Maryland – Maryland has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Anyone may report a possibly unsafe driver to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, and the case will be examined by a medical board.

Massachusetts – Massachusetts asks drivers to self-report to the Registry of Motor Vehicles if diagnosed with dementia, for a reevaluation. Doctor, family and law enforcement can report a possibly unsafe driver to the RMV to start an investigation.

Michigan – Michigan has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. Requests for driver re-examination can be submitted to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. A test will be ordered, and driving privileges are amended or restricted based on the results.

Minnesota – Minnesota has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  A letter from a physician saying someone in Minnesota is unfit to drive will result in that driver’s license being suspended. Notification from anyone else (to Driver and Vehicle Services) will be followed up with a driving examination.

Mississippi – Mississippi has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  However, anyone can submit a Referral for Driver Examination to the Mississippi Driver Records Division. The state will require notes from an eye doctor and general physician vouching for the driver’s ability behind the wheel, then the driver will be tested.

Missouri – Missouri has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Anyone in Missouri can submit a Driver Condition Report on a possibly unsafe driver to the Department of Revenue. Doing so will result in a medical evaluation and new driver’s test being required.

Montana – Montana has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.   However, the general public can request a Recommendation for Reexamination of a possibly unsafe driver, and the Montana MVD will investigate.

Nebraska – Nebraska has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.   However, anyone in Nebraska can file a Citizen Reexamination Report with the Driver Licensing Division and the DMV with investigate whether the subject should be allowed to continue driving.

Nevada – Nevada has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Concerned family members in Nevada can file a Request for Reevaluation with the DMV, with a doctor’s signature included, and an investigation will be launched.

New Hampshire – New Hampshire has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. Family, law enforcement, and doctors can report a driver as unsafe to the New Hampshire DMV, and initiate a process requiring a medical evaluation or hearing to determine if the license should be taken away.

New Jersey – New Jersey has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Family, law enforcement, and doctors can report a driver as unsafe to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s Medical Review Unit. After a new driving test, a driver’s license may be revoked.

New Mexico – New Mexico has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. However, a doctor can contact the New Mexico MVD and a medical review board will determine whether the license should be revoked. There’s no formal process for a family member to notify the MVD.

New York – New York has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. Doctors might file a Physician’s Reporting Form with New York’s DMV, and if so a new driving test will be ordered.

North Carolina – North Carolina has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. However, anyone can report an unsafe driver to the North Carolina DMV’s Medical Evaluation Program, which will order a road test and/or medical evaluation before deciding whether to revoke a driver’s license.

North Dakota – North Dakota has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.   That said, the North Dakota’s Department of Transportation will suspend a license if it receives a Medical Examination Report from a doctor saying a driver is unsafe.

Ohio – Ohio has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. A note from a doctor to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles is required to initiate an investigation into whether someone is able to drive safely.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.   Having said that anyone can submit a Request for Driver Review form to the Oklahoma DMV, which will investigate and determine if limitations need to be placed on driving privileges.

Oregon – Doctors in Oregon are asked to submit a report to the At-Risk Driver Program of the Oregon Department of Transportation if they believe someone is unfit to drive, and an investigation will start.  Family can also submit a Driver Evaluation Request, should they feel their loved one is not safe.

Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania has mandatory physician reporting to the DMV within 10 days of diagnosis (the form is here), then a Medical Advisory Board determines next steps.  What this means is a doctor will report the person with dementia to the department of motor vehicles.  It is not illegal to drive with dementia, but a review process will begin and the person may be found unqualified to drive.

Rhode Island – Rhode Island has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Persons can report a potential unsafe driver to the Rhode Island DMVs Operator Control Department to start an investigation.  An investigation may result in a loss of driving privileges should a medical condition make the driver hazardous.

South Carolina – South Carolina has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. Only doctors and law enforcement can notify the South Carolina DMV about an unsafe driver, and if they do so, a driving test and / or medical evaluation is required to keep the license.

South Dakota – South Dakota has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  However, anyone can submit a Driver Evaluation Request to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, and an investigation will begin.

Tennessee – Tennessee has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. Anyone can report an unsafe driver to the Tennessee Department of Safety’s Driver Services Division. The report must include a note from a doctor.

Texas – Texas has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.   However, anyone can report a possibly unsafe driver to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Drivers License Division, for review by a medical advisory board to determine next steps.

Utah – Utah has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Anyone including physicians can submit an Unsafe Driver Review form in Utah, and the Department of Public Safety will investigate which may result in a loss of license.

Vermont – Vermont has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Doctors, neighbors and family members may contact the Vermont DMV to request a Driver Reexamination, and vision and other medical tests help determine whether limitations should be placed on someone’s license.

Virginia – Virginia has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Doctors might report a potentially unsafe driver but are not required to do so.  If a report is received by the Virginia DMV for medical review, the driver’s license will be suspended until undergoing an assessment.

Washington – Washington has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Doctors and family members might submit a request for Driver Evaluation to the Washington Department of Licensing but are not required by law to do so.   Upon request an investigation will begin to determine if the driver is permitted to continue driving.

Washington D.C. – The District of Columbia has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Doctors and family members might submit a Medical Referral Form with the Washington D.C. DMV.  Doing so will begin an investigation, the outcome of which may result in the loss of driving privileges.  However, to be clear, neither physicians nor family members are under legal obligation to do so.

West Virginia – West Virginia has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely. Doctors, law enforcement, and immediate family can report an unsafe driver, (but are not required by law to do so) to the West Virginia DMV, and the Medical Review Unit will investigate possibly resulting in a loss of driving privileges.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  While under no legal obligation to report, doctors and family members have the option to report a possibly unsafe driver to the DMV, and the Medical Review Unit will investigate.

Wyoming – Wyoming has no laws against driving with dementia specifically but obviously has laws about medical conditions which impact a person’s ability to drive safely.  Family members and physicians can report a possibly unsafe driver to the Wyoming Department of Transportation but are not legally required to do so.   A report will result in an investigation which in turn may result in the individual losing their driver’s license.

Can A Doctor Stop A Patient From Driving?

I find it hard to believe but not many states in the USA require physicians to report a patient who they believe would be a potential risky driver. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) did publish information on the Legal and Ethical Responsibilities of the Physician when it comes to assessing and counseling older drivers – so I am personally happy about that!

Each state (as you read above) has different requirements on this topic so I would urge you to review the list above and if you have any questions, to consult an elder law attorney.   They may tell you that you would need a 2nd opinion from another physician so be aware of that. 

Normally, it’s the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in your county who will make that final decision but of course, if they receive a letter from a physician, that will play a part in that decision making process.

Conclusion

The issues related to driving and any form of cognitive decline such as dementia or Alzheimer’s is very difficult – I know.   And yes, you may have to resort to doing some things that are essentially conning your loved one – but for their safety and the safety of others, it’s extremely important to stay true to the number one rule which is to keep your senior loved one as safe as possible.

 

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