Driving and dementia tip sheet

Does a diagnosis of dementia automatically mean the person has to stop driving? This is one of the first and toughest issues families and caregivers will face. Some people in the early stages of dementia can continue to drive safely and competently but because of the progressive nature of the disease, it’s critical to be aware of any changes in their driving patterns.

Warning signs

As the disease progresses, the person’s cognitive function, memory and visual-spatial orientation decrease and may lead to:

  • Using improper speed or stopping in traffic for no apparent reason
  • Being confused when to stop or change lanes
  • Getting lost on familiar roads
  • Driving in the wrong direction
  • Using improper signalling
  • Ignoring traffic lights and signs - thinking ‘green’ means stop and ‘red’ means go
  • Relying on a co-driver or refusing passengers like family and friends
  • Becoming nervous or irritated about driving
  • Not being able to make sound judgments on the road – avoiding near misses, not braking in time, driving too fast in inclement weather
  • Deteriorating eye, hand, leg coordination and reflexes
  • Receiving increased number of traffic violations or police warnings
  • Misjudging widths and distances, resulting in an unusual number of small dents or scrapes on the person’s vehicle.

Note: Certain types and combinations of medications can further impair the person’s reasoning and judgment.

As a caregiver you're not alone

  • Talk to your family doctor. Physicians are legally responsible to report patients who have a medical condition that may impair their driving.
  • Raise the issue of driving early to help encourage the person with dementia to participate in decisions about driving.
  • Driver testing and licensing rules vary by province. It is best to check with your provincial Ministry of Transportation for current rules.
  • Discuss your concerns with family or friends with similar experiences.
  • Contact your local Alzheimer Society. Staff are equipped to help you resolve challenging issues and point you in the right direction.

For more information, check out the full Conversations About Dementia and Driving brochure.

Last Updated: 09/20/2019