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Caregiver's Dilemma - Taking the Car Keys

Due to Lewy body dementia patients' cognitive loss, slow reaction time, and visual-spatial difficulties in judging distances, experts advise patients not to drive. The visual-spatial problems relate to faulty visual perception of objects including depth perception, judging the space in relation to or between objects and distance. For instance, people suffering from this condition may not be able to judge how far distant a car is away from them if when crossing the street or driving. Or, they may not be able to tell if they are driving in their own lane or in an on-coming lane. 

Studies show that we equate our personal independence with our ability to drive, so try to be understanding and sympathetic with the patient’s dilemma. Reassure them that if they need to go anywhere, you or another family member or friend will take them. 

The grandchild test

You must use common sense when deciding to take your loved one off the road. One suggestion for you to consider is the grandchild test offered by John Hopkins. If you don’t feel safe letting your loved one drive while your grandchild is in the car, they shouldn’t be driving If you ponder this situation and find yourself hesitating even a little before thinking you would allow a grandchild to ride with your loved one with LBD, the patient should not drive.

With that said, if the patient insists on driving, you must take a very firm stand. Take all the keys or disable the vehicles by whatever means required. This means taking all the keys from cars, motorcycles, boats, riding mowers, tractors, and any other modes of transportation the patient may have available. Because the patient is not able to drive safely, you must be assertive and prevent this from happening. It’s better to have a confrontation now than to let your loved one on the road and have to face the results of them causing or not being able to avoid an accident and injuring or killing themselves or someone else. 

Being the bad guy 

If you are uncomfortable being viewed by your loved one as “the bad guy,” you can talk with your loved one’s physician and see if he or she would be willing to be the individual who first makes the suggestion to voluntarily stop driving. If your loved one resists, physicians see it as their duty to be “the bad guy” and demand that the patient stop driving. If the patient still strongly wishes to drive, the physician can contact your state’s Department of Transportation and local driver license bureau to revoke the patient’s license and driving privileges. In fact, in some states physicians are required to do this for anyone who they diagnosis with dementia. 

Sometimes asking your loved one’s physician to write a short letter stating that he or she advises no more driving – family members can then show this letter to the patient whenever it is necessary to do so. You may want a mechanic to install a kill switch that will disable the vehicle and not allow it to be started. Mechanics know where to locate the switch so it is convenient for you, but not obvious to your loved one. 

DO NOT let a dementia patient on the road where they could have an accident and kill others. You have a moral and legal responsibility to keep them from driving Further, if your loved one has been diagnosed as having dementia and has been told not to drive, auto insurance will be void if he or she does drive. 

Source: Living with Lewy's : Empowering Today's Caregiver, 2008, by Amy and Gerald Throop. Written for caregivers, Living with Lewy's is a survival guide for all caregivers, but esepcially for caregivers of people with dementia with Lewy bodies, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. 

LBDA receives a $2 contribution from the authors for each book purchase that references lbda.org.