Last week, we addressed E.R.’s concern about her friend who is showing signs of confusion. Her family is aware there is a problem, yet says nothing about her driving. E.R. wonders if she should alert the family of the possibility that this friend is a hazard on the road.
Unfortunately, there is no single recipe for families to deal with the transportation issue. Since each family member has a unique relationship with the individual, perceptions of the risks may differ.
Even factual information about the driving behavior may elicit different opinions and advice. Two issues are paramount: the safety of everyone on the road and the dignity and self-respect of the individual with dementia.
A helpful guide has been published by The Hartford Financial Services Group and the MIT AgeLab: “At the Cross Roads: A Guide to Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia and Driving.” Much of the following information is from that guide.
Note that a diagnosis of dementia is not automatically a reason to remove driving privileges. However, it is important to pay attention to early warning signs.
Three signs require immediate attention: If the driver uses a co-pilot, confuses the brake and gas pedal or stops in traffic for no apparent reason. If any of these occur, stop the driver from driving – immediately.
Here are some additional signs that require attention:
Having less confidence while driving
Difficulty turning to see when backing up
Hitting the curb
Failure to notice traffic signs
Riding the brake
Other drivers often honking their horns
Moving into the wrong lane
Confusion at exits
Driving at inappropriate speeds
Being easily distracted while driving.
The Hartford report suggests keeping a list of warning signals, the date observed and comments
One of the biggest challenges is to balance safety with the person’s desire to remain independent. Taking away the key is a last resort. If all else fails, a family member can report the individual to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV would then require the individual to take a behind-the-wheel driving test. The California DMV can be reached at (800) 777-0133 or at dmv.ca.gov.
In an ideal situation, family members and the individual with dementia would develop some plans about driving during the early phases of the disease. The Hartford publication offers a tool entitled “Agreement with My Family about Driving.” Here is an example sentence of an advanced planning agreement signed and dated by the individual. “I have discussed with my family my desire to drive as long as it is safe for me to do so. When it is not reasonable for me to drive, I desire (person’s name) to tell me I can no longer drive.”
Now to some alternative transportation:
Uber and Lyft: These are on-demand transportation services. One caveat: you need to have a smartphone. If you only have a flip-top phone, consider contacting Go Go Grandparent.
Go Go Grandparent: This is an on-demand ride-sharing transportation service typically for older adults who might need a little extra time, have a walker or wheelchair. The vehicle typically is larger. Also, drivers are accustomed to taking a little more time than usual. No money is involved; only charge cards. You must be able to transfer yourself into a car without assistance. Their number is (855) 464-6872.
Transportation services: For service in your community within Los Angeles County, call 211 and ask for senior ride programs. Here are just two examples that serve the South Bay.
The Wave: A senior and disabled curb-to-curb Dial-A-Ride service that provides inexpensive shared-ride transportation to destinations within Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach and medical facilities in Torrance. Qualifying age is 62 years. Call (310) 802-7684.
Senior and Dial-A-Taxi Program: This is a Torrance Community Transit Program that provides transportation for Torrance residents who are 65 years and older. It includes both the Senior and Dial-a-Taxi Swipe Card programs. The program enables participants to purchase credits for taxi rides at a discounted personal cost. For more information call (310) 618-2536.
E.R., you are acting responsibly by letting your friend’s family know of your concern. Thank you for being a caring friend that will ensure the safety of your friend and each of us on the road.