How to Compensate for 3 Early Driving Problems Associated With Dementia

Early in cognitive impairment, a person can experience thinking problems that affect driving, even though driving skills are not yet generally impaired.

1. Disorientation

A sudden sensation of being unsure where you are is an experience that can strike early in dementia. By itself, it's not a reason to give up driving if other skills remain sharp. But disorientation is a big red flag that driving is becoming dangerous, making it wise to consider beginning a transition to driving less.

What helps: Staying calm and gently reorienting the person about the location and purpose of the drive. The sensation is usually fleeting at this stage.

2. Forgetting where the car is parked

Short-term memory loss means that unless the driver makes a point of noting the car's location, he or she may "blank" on it later. An inability to store new memories is one of the early signs of dementia.

What helps: Leave a notepad in the car so the person with memory loss can jot down the parking location, then put the note in a pocket or purse.

3. Getting lost, even on familiar routes

Driving down a particular road time after time is no guarantee that one day your loved one won't lose track of where he or she is going.

What helps: Use MapQuest or similar mapping software to print out directions, even to familiar locations.

Note: These tactics only work in the earliest stages of dementia. Later, not even these memory crutches will make sense or prevent the person from getting lost. By that time other deficits will also have made driving less safe overall.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

over 4 years, said...

Very specific suggestions.

almost 5 years, said...

It showed me how right the doctor was when he said my husband didn't need to drive anymore.I have already seen all of the above !!! He is now in the moderate stage!

almost 5 years, said...

I do not drive...never have, but think that the global population is in the very beginning stages of individuals who frequently walk having the same capabilities as that of driving an automobile. Disorientation usually causes one to pullover to the side of the road to wait to become more calm or to call for roadside assistance. The same is true of walking...long or short distances. If one needs to stop, do so. A clear head promotes healthy travel.

about 6 years, said...

At my husband's stage he would forget he had a note in his pocket to tell him where he parked!!! I know he doesn't really need to be driving and have talked to him about it! He thinks he can drive as good as he ever.If he has to give up his keys he will grieve himself to death!!! Plus if he thought I had anything to do with it he would get really angry with me. I don't think he would hit me but would be very verbal!!!!

about 6 years, said...

I'm having some short-term memory loss and twice in the last year have suddenly not known where I was while stopped at a traffic light. It only took a second or two to realize where I was. I've since been through extensive psychological tests which concluded I am typical of people my age, 75. In my case it turned out to be sleep deprivation. Now I'm on a bi-pap.

over 6 years, said...

At this stage, I am not so worried of my dad getting lost. Its what he might say or do when he gets out there. People have a hard time understanding him and he sometimes gets frustrated and is very loud and rude. He is a target to get hurt or taken advantage of.