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Living Skills

Alzheimer's: When to Take Away The Keys

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s presents a range of issues, and one of the t oughest is deciding whether it’s time to take away the keys to the car.

According to experts from Harvard Medical School, supporting a loved one with activities of daily living can be exhausting, as can finding a good balance between protecting the patient and keeping what independent activities they can perform.

The driving issue cannot be ignored, because a mistake behind the wheel can be deadly.

Here, the Harvard Medical School experts offer some tips on dealing with the issue:

Identify an unsafe driver before an accident occurs. In driving, the Harvard experts say, the eyes, brain and muscles have to process and respond to information quickly. But these skills, they say, can not be enough in an unexpected driving situation. A person with dementa may panic or freeze with indecision, the experts say.

The Harvard experts suggest observing a person’s behavior in general. If you notice poor judgment, a lack of attention, slow reactions, or clumsiness, they say that person should not be behind the wheel.

Beyond evaluating the issue, there’s another difficult problem: breaking the news to the person. The point of that, the Harvard experts say, is to be tactful and respectful. The aim is to get the person off the road, not to criticize them. If you want an independent assessment of safety, there are driver’s rehabilitation specialists that can give a road test and evaluate suitability.

And, the experts say, there are also written prescriptions from physicians that say “Do not drive.”

In some states, doctors must legally report unsafe drivers and drivers with medical problems to the department of motor vehicles. The Harvard experts say that in a worst-case scenario, you  might need to seek help from a lawyer or even a official with the Department of Public Safety in your area.

For more on preventing, diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s, buy A guide to coping with Alzheimer’s Disease, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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