practical alzheimersMany people will spend decades behind the wheel of a car. For some this is a lifelong passion and a symbol of independence, while for others it’s just a necessary part of modern life. However, there comes a time when we all have to accept that it’s no longer appropriate, or safe, to drive a car.

As we grow older, our reaction times become slower and it can become a challenge to concentrate on a busy road with its noise and traffic. A serious mental condition like Alzheimer’s will only make this harder.

When someone is first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, they may not necessarily have to stop driving immediately. But as their illness progresses, they should reduce the amount of driving they do and, when the time is right, stop altogether.

Alzheimer’s disease causes memory problems, meaning that someone with the illness could get lost while driving, even in familiar territory. They may also find it difficult to judge distances accurately, making it much harder to brake safely in the case of an emergency.

A driver with Alzheimer’s will struggle to prioritize road signs such as speed limits and they can be easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds from pedestrians and things like advertising boards.

If you are caring for someone who continues to drive, look out for some of the warning signs that suggest they might be becoming unsafe behind the wheel. These may include:

  • difficulty driving in familiar places
  • confusing the brake and gas pedals
  • missing traffic signs
  • slow reaction times
  • speeding or driving too slow
  • difficulty staying in lane
  • feelings of anger or confusion

If you’re not sure whether they should continue to drive, ask yourself if you would feel safe as a passenger in their car or if you’d feel comfortable with them driving others. If the answer is no, you know it’s probably time for them to stop driving.

It can be very difficult for people to stop doing things they have been doing routinely for years – especially if it’s an activity they enjoy. But the risks of traffic accidents mean that it’s vital that someone with Alzheimer’s is encouraged to stop when they are no longer safe behind the wheel.

As a first step, you should try to reduce their need to drive. Many regular shopping trips, like those done to pick up food and prescriptions, can be avoided with home delivery services. Other services like hairdressers can make home visits.

Consider what alternative transport is available. Friends and family may be able to help with shopping trips and days out. Look for local public transport services including those intended for senior citizens. You might also want to consider using a local taxi service. This will give you the opportunity to set up a payment account so that your loved one doesn’t need to use cash.

People with Alzheimer’s disease lack insight into certain aspects of their lives, so it can be a great challenge to convince them of the need to stop driving. Starting the conversation early is a good idea. It can also help to raise the subject during a visit to the doctor because the opinions of medical professionals tend to carry a lot of weight.

You can make the transition away from driving easier for them by removing temptations. Keep car keys out of sight, consider selling their car or, alternatively, have it moved to another location.

When someone with Alzheimer’s has to stop driving, they will probably mourn the loss of their independence. Remember to be patient with them, but do make sure they stop. The consequences of driving with Alzheimer’s can be very serious.

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Photo by Scott Crawford


Practical Alzheimer's

The Practical Alzheimer’s team ( brings together practical information on living with Alzheimer’s and the latest news and views on the disease, informed by medical opinion and patient experience. We regularly meet with specialists in Alzheimer’s and dementia to make sure the content we produce is credible, relevant and newsworthy. We also seek the views and feedback of those living with Alzheimer’s. Email the team at:

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