Taking Away Car Keys from Alzheimer's Patients

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • In September 2005, Mom acquiesced by letting Dad and me join her for an important doctor’s appointment. The meeting was with her favorite physician, Dr. Deaton, who had treated Mom since he diagnosed her breathing problems as being due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 1997. By last September, Dr. Deaton could tell Mom was having issues both with breathing and with memory, so he told her she must quit driving. Because of Mom’s loss of short-term memory, she promptly forgot the conversation once we got to my home and argued that Dr. Deaton had said no such thing. I finally had to call Dr. Deaton’s office and request that he send a letter stating that Mom should not be driving so I could show it to her to reinforce this difficult transition.
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    Needless to say, my mom was not happy with the fact that her independence was being limited. Shortly afterward, my dad took their van back to West Texas, leaving Mom with me (and, thus, carless). I’m so glad Dad took the car because I am afraid that Mom would have grabbed her car keys and jumped into the vehicle, not realizing that she was in another city and not knowing her way around this area. Plus, there would have been the additional hazard that once Mom realized she was lost, she would have gotten so stressed that she would have had an accident, which is very possible in a town that sees its population increase by approximately 44,000 college students during the school year.

    I find that my concerns about Mom’s driving are common among many family members and caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Kathy, a friend of mine in Austin, is working on a project with a woman from Central Texas named Emma. Emma’s sister, who has dementia, lives in West Texas, far away from her nuclear family. Needless to say, there is no one who has stopped her from driving, but Emma is increasingly worried about the sister’s safety.

    She has good reason to be. A recent Japanese study reported in the Mainichi Daily News found that elderly people who have dementia often do not recognize traffic lights and road signs. The researchers also found that these elderly people are still able to renew their driver’s licenses. The researchers noted that although these elderly people had mild symptoms of dementia, 40 percent of these drivers caused accidents. Plus they often had additional accidents following the initial mishap.

    Pulling the car keys from an elderly person is never easy, but it is especially critical to do with someone who has Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia. Their safety is at issue, as is the safety of others on the road.

    Learn more about caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease at our Caregiver Center.

Published On: July 11, 2006