Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(6):1035-1036

See related article on driving and dementia.

What is dementia?

Dementia (say: duh-MEN-shuh) is a problem that makes it hard for a person to remember things. Dementia in older people usually is caused by Alzheimer’s disease (say: ALLZ-hi-mers). People with Alzheimer’s disease slowly lose their memory, and over time they stop being able to take care of themselves.

How does dementia affect driving?

People with early dementia probably will not have any problem driving. After awhile, they might get lost easily, especially in new areas. As time goes on, they might have problems like forgetting to move to the correct lane for a turn, not being able to watch the road and listen to the radio at the same time, and not being able to stop suddenly. This is when the driver with dementia becomes dangerous.

How do I know if there is a problem?

Be on the lookout for the warning signs of dementia. These include not being able to remember recent events, repeating statements or questions, not knowing the date or time, and having trouble doing normal things like cooking or making a telephone call.

Look for a change in the person’s driving skills. Do you feel safe riding with this person? Would you let him or her drive young children? Does he or she drive too fast or too slow, change lanes without looking, or fail to yield the right of way to other drivers? Does he or she have trouble making left turns at traffic lights, get upset or confused in heavy traffic, or have trouble following directions? Do other drivers honk their horns or get mad at this person? Does the person’s car have scrapes or dents?

What can I do if I think someone has a problem?

If you think that a friend or family member might have dementia, talk to his or her doctor. The doctor will check this person for dementia and other problems that can affect driving skills. The doctor might want to do medical tests or have the person take a driving test.

Right now, there is no perfect way to test for safe driving in people with dementia. If a person is judged to be unsafe, he or she must stop driving. It is important to help this person find other ways to get around. Older people can become depressed when they stop driving. Doctors and social workers can help.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor.

AAA Senior Driving

AARP Driver Safety

Alzheimer’s Association

The Hartford

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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