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To drive or not to drive

10 Jul 2008
Bonnie Sandler, S.W., The Senior Times - July 2008

All too often when I ask families about their loved one’s driving abilities after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, I’m told there’s no serious concern. After further questioning it’s not unusual to learn the individual is “only” driving close to home (where accidents never happen?) – or only lost their way a couple of times, or scratched the car in the garage. Yet when I ask whether they would allow their children to be in the car, the answer is a firm no.

Who is protecting the neighbours’ children? I’m not insensitive to the significance of driving to someone who has been driving most of his or her life. Having car keys taken away can be devastating. But driving demands good judgment, skills, reflexes, concentration, and sensory abilities.

The burden of this decision should not be left to family members. In California, physicians must report a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s to the health department, who in turn passes this information to the motor vehicle bureau. The Quality Standard Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology recommends driving tests be conducted every six months for those with AD.

Why don’t we have a similar process in place here? I suggest that doctors be obligated to report a diagnosis of cognitive impairment to the SAAQ, who should mandate frequent driving tests. This would relieve the family of having to decide where to draw the line. Caregivers have enough on their plates without having to play the enforcer in this respect.

In the meantime, these signs should help families know when it’s time to schedule a driving test:

Driving too slow or too fast
Unable to find the way to a familiar place
Slow in reacting to a new situation
Not observing traffic signs
Hitting curbs
Agitation when behind the wheel
Confusing the gas and the brake pedal
Scratches on the car
Trips taking longer than usual

Above all, safety is not negotiable!


Bonnie Sandler

Residential Real Estate Broker, Housing Consultant for Seniors

514 497-3775