For many people with dementia, driving means independence. The thought of handing over their car keys can be upsetting and even frightening to them. This often leaves families with a dilemma. Should they risk angering their loved ones by taking away the car keys? Or should they allow their loved ones to continue to drive and risk that they will cause a serious accident?
There is no easy answer to this problem, but new guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology should help physicians and families to better determine when people with dementia should give up driving. Experts reviewed the scientific literature looking for good predictors of driving risk in people with dementia. They found, most importantly, that people with dementia are not capable of determining whether or not they should drive.
The expert panel also found that the Clinical Dementia Rating scale is a very reliable tool for identifying people at increased risk for unsafe driving. Another good predictor is when a caregiver rates a patient’s driving ability as “marginal” or “unsafe.” There is some evidence that Mini-Mental State Examination scores of less than or equal to 24 and elements of the patient’s driving history (accidents, tickets, etc.) are associated with decreased driving ability.
Almost everyone with dementia will need to give up driving at some point. Planning early on for the change from driving to non-driving may make this transition easier.
To read the American Academy of Neurology’s guidelines on evaluating driving risk in dementia click here.