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