As June comes to a close, so does Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. The Alzheimer’s Association defines Alzheimer’s as the most common form of dementia that can cause problems with memory, behavior and thinking. While the illness can start off mild, it’s severity can increase overtime, and interfere with daily tasks and life and is typically found in people over the age of 65. And according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2013, as many as 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer's.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s can affect day to day functions such as writing checks, dressing appropriately for the weather, identifying the day's date, and driving. While it is not necessary for someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to stop driving when the disease in its earliest stages, it is important to pay close attention to driving behaviors, as the number of driving errors may increase as the illness becomes more severe. The following are some of the warning signs that the Alzheimer’s Association suggests watching for, that indicate that an Alzheimer’s patient should stop driving.
How Alzheimer’s Affects Driving
Forgetting how to locate familiar places, such as the grocery store or a family member’s home
Failing to observe traffic signs
- Making slow or poor decisions while driving such as driving at an inappropriate speed
Making errors in basic driving, such as driving at inappropriate speeds, hitting curbs and drifting between lanes, confusing the brake and gas pedals, and forgetting the destination during the drive
Difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast,
Impairs decision making abilities
A study done by the University of Ottowa in 2016 showed that drivers with Alzheimer’s were less likely to use their brakes appropriately - whether using them too much or not enough, more likely to be in the wrong lane, speed, disobey traffic lights, and more likely to lose control of their vehicle. These errors could lead to potentially fatal car accidents for both passengers and drivers on the road, as well as the Alzheimer’s patients themselves.
Failure to navigate a busy intersection properly or ignoring traffic signs can also lead to car accident injuries and fatalities. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s symptoms increase over time, and as the severity of the illness increases, the patient’s ability to drive safely without getting into car accidents decreases. In addition, as the patient’s ability to think and make decisions deteriorates, they are less likely to be able to react quickly to the scenarios around them, such as not recognizing that the driver in front of them has slammed on their brakes until it is too late.
Having a conversation with a loved one about not driving anymore can be difficult and it is important to approach the matter gently. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests sitting down with those who are close to and taking care of the loved one, and creating a plan for when they should stop driving, discuss alternate methods of transportation and setting up a GPS system in their car. The Alzheimer’s Association also recommends periodic assessments of their driving, as this allows close monitoring of their driving and whether they will be able to continue to drive safely.
When the time comes, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends beginning the conversation by expressing concern, and showing love and support, as this may be a hard transition for them, and explaining to them why they should no longer be driving, and why it is a safety hazard for them, as well as those around them. If they express anger or resistance, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends being firm but understanding and empathetic, explaining that while this is a difficult transition, but is something that must happen. They also suggest, that if necessary, consult their doctor and have them reinforce that it is time for them to turn in their keys. If there is still resistance, it may be necessary to take away their keys or their car entirely. Even though this may be difficult, it is a matter of safety and an effective form of accident prevention.
Arranging alternate forms of transportation does not have to be challenging, however, it will take communication between family members to ensure the loved one can get to where they need to be without too much difficulty. The most basic alternate form of transportation is to have family and friends drive the loved one when possible. They can take turns or shifts, and work around each others’ schedules. Unfortunately, this is not always the most convenient option, and it may be simpler to arrange for a taxi service instead. If there is not a taxi service available, there are transportation options created specially for elderly people; local senior citizens services and homes often provide transportation at low cost or free of charge. If possible, reduce the need for someone with Alzheimer’s to drive, by having groceries, prescriptions and other day to day necessities delivered.
It is important for the family and friends of those living with Alzheimer’s to understand the disease and create a supportive and loving environment to help them with this challenging time. Alzheimer’s Awareness Month aims to create an empathy and awareness around the illness. While many people have heard of the illness, many don’t know the extent of the effects that Alzheimer's can have on day to day life. Since Alzheimer’s is a fairly common disease, it is important for everyone to understand in order to support loved ones fighting the illness.
The Michigan Law Firm, PC handles all types of motor vehicle accident cases. Our accident attorneys make the legal experience as easy for clients as possible, so that victims of auto accidents can focus on recovering from their car accident injuries. Contact The Michigan Law Firm, PC at 844.4MI.FIRM, for a free consultation.