Call to request a free consultation: 540.345.2000

Personal Injury Lawyers in Southwest Virginia, Virginia, and Nationally

When Should an Older Adult with Dementia Stop Driving?

One of the most challenging decisions many families must make is this: when should an older adult with dementia stop driving? In essence, families must decide when the risk of the family member causing or being involved in an auto accident outweighs the value of that person retaining the independence of continuing to drive a car.When Should an Older Adult with Dementia Stop Driving? - Altizer Law

Giving up driving and the independence it provides is a very difficult decision for anyone. Making that decision amid confusion and memory issues is particularly difficult. When a parent or friend is unable to recognize the danger of continuing to drive, it falls to relatives and close friends to work with the person’s physician to help him or her understand the need to stop driving. After forty or fifty years of driving, and the independence it brings, the loss of freedom feels like losing an important part of one’s self. Further complicating the issue is the need to accept the fact of becoming dependent upon others for many tasks and experiences of life.

In 2017, roughly half of all drivers on our roadways are over the age of 65. This proportion will increase over the next 30 years to 77 percent. According to statistics published in Claims Journal, adults over the age of 65 have the highest car accident rate compared to any other age group. What is more, older driver fatalities are highest in states with the largest population segments over the age of 65 (Florida, for example).

How Does Dementia Affect Driving?

Aside from the relatively benign risk of arriving somewhere and having no idea why they are there, where they are, or how to get home, aging alone takes some toll upon driving skills. This toll is intensified and broadened by the symptoms of dementia.

We all know that we undergo a number of physical changes as we age. These often include vision issues, loss of hearing, slower reaction time, some loss of coordination and loss of some strength. Some of these changes are simply an inherent part of the aging process. Some of them are also exacerbated by the side effects of some medications. These changes are recognized, accepted and compensated by most older adults. Dementia, however, can change the entire picture.

When cognition and memory are compromised, so are the decision-making and thought processes that enable us to make informed and considered decisions. Further, cognitive decline also slows reaction time and increases time required to recognize and respond to danger. Declining memory can affect ability to recall when to use an accelerator and when to use the brake, ability to change gears, and even ability to maintain the vehicle within the confines of a lane. Situations of these sorts are both frightening for the older driver and very dangerous for other drivers and pedestrians.

While forcing the issue of giving up the car keys with older adults is probably not a desirable approach, people with dementia often need some help to recognize the changes in their physical and mental capacities. They also might need help to understand the risks of continuing to drive for themselves and for others. Sometimes, in fact, it is the understanding that they could harm or kill someone else due to their declining capabilities that carries the greatest impact upon their reasoning.

Many causes and forms of dementia can compromise driving capabilities. As a larger proportion of drivers are older, the risks they pose to other motorists also increase.

Memory and cognition are very important in driving a vehicle. They are also important in evaluating one’s own ability to drive. Often, family members experience serious chagrin when attempting to help an older person with dementia understand the need to stop driving. There are those who can help with this process. From public health nurses, to primary care physicians, to neurologists, and to driving evaluation and rehabilitation experts, many resources are available to help a family make such a difficult and emotional decision. You cannot trust that your loved one is aware of when an older adult with dementia should stop driving.

If you or a loved one has been harmed by an older adult driver with dementia, you might have a personal injury case. Although we hope you never need our help, if you do need help with this or any kind of auto accident, call the trusted attorneys of Altizer Law, P.C. We will help you and we will fight for you with great resolve until we win for you the maximum financial settlement allowed by Virginia law.