Critter Corner: Should My Uncle With Dementia Still Be Driving?

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Dear Commander Bun Bun,

My dad broke the news to me that his brother has dementia. I have always been close with my uncle, so I was quite upset to hear about it. He told me that he will be driving to our house next weekend to visit. Driving? What if he loses his way, or becomes disoriented? Is it safe for someone with dementia to still be on the road?

Dee Mencha-Driver

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Dear Dee,

I am sorry to hear about your uncle’s diagnosis. In answering your question, I just stumbled upon a recent study on the subject of driving with dementia, that was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Hopefully, the findings can shed some light on your situation!

Researchers conducting the study analyzed data from 28 studies examining cognitive tests and driving performance among people with dementia. Half of the studies used on-road tests to determine driving ability. Most of the rest relied on reports from caregivers.

The cognitive tests tended to focus on attention and concentration, ability to see objects, memory, language and general mental status. Some tests also looked at executive functioning, a measure of reasoning and problem-solving.

People who performed badly on tests of mental status, executive functioning and attention and concentration also did poorly on driving tests just over half of the time. The other cognitive skills were linked to safe driving less than half of the time, with memory and language proving to be least relevant to driving skills. “As it stands, apart from on-road tests, which can be quite expensive for the client, there is no consensus on an objective assessment that can be used as an alternative,” lead author Joanne Bennett, a doctoral candidate at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, said.

According to Bennett, “Simply having a diagnosis of dementia does not mean that the individual should have to give up their license, however due to the progressive nature of the disease, they will eventually need to stop driving.”

There are red flags that show when adults are unsafe to drive, as follows:

• Eye impairments are common in dementia, and can result in people being unable to read signs or see pedestrians.

• Lack of orientation (e.g. driving up the wrong side of the road or inability to maintain lane position) are also key indicators that driving has deteriorated to a point when it is unsafe.

• Forgetting how to locate familiar places, failing to observe traffic signs, making slow or poor decisions in traffic and driving at an inappropriate speed may also be important warning signs.

People with dementia have up to eight times the odds of being in a car accident compared with other seniors. This is one reason that elders with a diagnosis of dementia who are still driving should consider protecting their assets from lawsuits by putting them into our firm’s Living Trust Plus(TM) asset protection trust, which protects the client’s assets from probate PLUS lawsuit PLUS nursing home expenses.

But in the early stages of the condition, people with a dementia diagnosis can often drive safely. As a result, their driving will need to be constantly monitored and reviewed by both loved ones and health professionals.

Maybe you can suggest that you go visit your uncle instead of him driving to visit you? Also, you may want to suggest to loved ones that they should talk to his physician about his symptoms, to find out whether he should still be on the road.

Hop this helps!

Commander Bun Bun

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