Driving and dementia: When it's time to put on the brakes!

Driving and dementia: When it's time to put on the brakes!

Dementia patients feel offended and insulted when they are told that they are no longer fit to drive. But what is so painful is existential for the safety of the person with dementia as well as for road users. What can relatives do?

Dementia can be distressing for those affected. Confusion increases. Forgetfulness becomes more pronounced. And as the disease progresses, abilities that are otherwise taken for granted diminish. A serious example is driving a car. Here, it is not only the driver's life that is at stake, but also other road users. But having the insight and common-sense to give up the car key is not easy at all. Sufferers know this and their relatives notice it. We reveal what are the clear signs of a loss of driving ability and how it can be made easier for dementia patients to step on the brakes.

No more driving – it hurts

When it comes to driving and dementia, there are really no two opinions. Nevertheless, the emphasis is on the word "actually". For while relatives would long since say that driving is now a thing of the past, dementia patients often strongly oppose this assessment. No wonder. No longer being allowed to drive means a serious deprivation of autonomy and independence. And yet, this creates a danger that not only endangers one's own health, but also that of others. In addition, there are issues such as liability and insurance in the event of traffic accidents, which are mainly caused by dementia.

How can you recognise impaired driving due to dementia?

  • The sense of direction deteriorates, procedures become more frequent.
  • Concentration decreases.
  • Stress leads more quickly to uncertainty, nervousness and anxiety.
  • The ability to react slows down.
  • Traffic signs are overlooked or misinterpreted.
  • Traffic rules, e.g. flashing lights or right of way, are disregarded.
  • The driver suddenly shows exaggerated or even aggressive behaviour.
  • Road users are seen too late or disregarded.
  • The brake pedal, accelerator pedal and clutch are confused.
  • There is no explanation for newly incurred fender benders.

Often the discussions are idle

If these descriptions apply to the driving style of the ill person, it is time to act. Of course, the best thing is for the person with dementia to have the insight to give up the key on his own. Or he or she can be persuaded by good coaxing and reasonable arguments from the relatives. Because then it is a decision made on one's own and one's dignity is preserved. In many cases, however, this insight is lacking. "What nonsense, you must be crazy." And the discussion is over. What else can relatives do to persuade dementia patients to change their minds as voluntarily as possible?

Suggest an official test of fitness to drive.

The TÜV (Technical Inspection Agency) offers a so-called fitness check, which tests people's fitness to drive. It consists of a reaction test and an interview with a psychologist and a doctor. Private driving schools and the ADAC also offer such tests. In this way, it can be shown in black and white what the state of fitness to drive is. Caution: Even if the result is positive, you should continue to observe. In a few weeks, things may look different again.

Show alternatives

Do not leave the sick person without a car. Suggest how the person can remain mobile. For example, by public transport, by bicycle, by taxi or with your help if time permits. In addition, supermarkets often offer attractive delivery options. This way, shopping will no longer be an issue in the future.



Refer to the safety and protection of others

"Of course, you yourself are not afraid of anything happening to you. But honestly, you can get a fender bender fixed. A child run over, no." Explain forcefully all the things that can happen in an accident.

Make clear the consequences through insurance and liability.

If a road accident does occur, people with dementia are generally covered by insurance. However, if it can be proven that the accident occurred explicitly because of the dementia, the insurance company will seek compensation from the person who caused the accident.

When you are legally obliged to prohibit driving

If you, as a relative, have a duty of supervision according to § 832 BGB (German Civil Code) and are therefore the patient's legal guardian, you are legally obliged to prohibit driving. Otherwise you are personally liable for any damage caused.

Professional help relieves the burden and can have an effect from the outside.

We are aware of the explosive nature of this topic and how much dementia patients as well as their relatives get into conflict as soon as it comes to the topic of driving and dementia and the associated dangers. Hence our offer: Therefore, please feel free to contact famPLUS if you have the feeling that you can no longer get on alone and with conversations. We will confidentially advise you on all options.

by Jana Lorenz

Film tip on the topic of driving and dementia


famPLUS - Together for your personal PLUS!

We provide individual advice on all aspects of care and provision as well as on the organisation of care in your region. You can reach us at 089/8099027-00 at any time. Our advice is available to all employees of our cooperation partners.

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