Driving & Dementia: The Road to Staying Safe

Driving is an important part of daily independence. However, for individuals with age-related changes or neurological conditions, driving capabilities may be compromised. Discussing driving with your loved one can be difficult but if done early, the outcome can be more promising.

Marybeth Cartmille of OFH (far left) with Meredith Sweeney of OSU Wexner Medical Center and Michelle Crum of the Alzheimer’s Association

This week, we had the pleasure of hosting “Driving and Dementia,” as part of the Alzheimer’s Association education event series. Meredith Sweeney from The Assistive Technology Center Occupational Driver Rehabilitation Program of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center talked with attendees about the Occupational Therapy Driver Rehabilitation program and the benefits of early intervention. She also shared advice for building a driving plan for individuals affected by dementia and other memory-care diseases.

Sweeney is one of only about 350 occupation therapists in the United States and Canada to be a ‘Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist.’

Sweeney points out that in the early stages of dementia you should begin the process of developing a driver retirement program. Studies have shown that if the dementia driver helps make the driving retirement plan, they are less likely to be depressed when they must finally give up their driving independence.

Building a Driver Retirement Program

Some people can be alright to drive for a short time after diagnosis, although Sweeney suggests people with memory disease should consider a driving evaluation annually.

To participate in the program through the OSU Wexner Medical Center, participants will need a referral from their doctor.  Once referred, the appointment takes about two hours.  The first hour includes a consultation, vision screenings, thinking skills, reaction times and additional in-office evaluations. The second hour includes a driving analysis using a modified OSU vehicle.  Drivers are analyzed first in a parking lot, then residential area, commercial area and on a highway.  The occupational therapist shares the results throughout the appointment and will ultimately help you create a driving plan.

If a driver is deemed unsafe, their team will help you make a plan for public and other transit options. Many public transit options have direct routes available if you qualify under their medical conditions’ provisions.

There are also ride sharing options, including Go Go Grandparent that allows you to order an Uber or Lyft ride for your parent from afar and then receive regular text alerts about their ride and when they have arrived at their destination.

If you are concerned about a loved-one’s driving, here are the top three items to watch for:

  1. Speed: Are they going too fast or too slow?
  2. The most common accident is making a poor decision when making an unprotected left turn (meaning there is no stop light).
  3. Look at your loved one’s car: Are there dents or scratches that can’t be explained? Many people with memory disease are unaware that they hit items while operating their vehicle.

For more information about driving and dementia or to learn more about the program, visit https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/physical-therapy-rehabilitation/rehabilitation-driving-program?utm_source=brochure&utm_medium=print&utm_campaign=phre_drive_rehab_brochure

Why I chose memory care and my mom didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease

“My mom was never officially diagnosed with memory disease. I believe her memory loss was more a factor of age and a head injury from previous falls versus a disease,” shared Gene Utz, whose mom, Gertrude, was a resident at our Bramblewood house in Cincinnati.

Gene recently shared his story with us, including why he chose to move his mom to Our Family Home after unsuccessful experiences with four other senior living providers in the area.

What was it like trying to find someone to care for your mom? 

Until you’re in the situation of looking for care for an aging family member, you don’t realize the nuance that goes into finding the right place. There are so many options and it’s challenging to understand what you’re going to get for the money you’re spending.

What was your initial impression of Our Family Home?

It was astounding. Not just the layout, which was much easier for my mom to navigate, but the level of care. There is no comparison when you have two aides to five residents in each home. Honestly, it’s so out of balance with anything else you will find out there.

Why did you choose Our Family Home if your mom wasn’t officially diagnosed with a memory disease?

Hands down, the level of care. At first, I questioned whether my mom would thrive in a memory care center. I wondered if she would have enough engagement and interaction if she was surrounded by people with severe memory disease. But, she did. There was a mix of residents at different stages of their disease, which allowed my mom to interact more easily with her peers. The staff also kept her busy – they would talk with her and keep her busy with different activities.

What was it like after you moved your mom in to Our Family Home?

I could finally stop worrying. When my mom was in other centers, I was so worried I would get a call that she fell. After almost five years going from place to place, I could finally relax and know that she was in really good hands.

What advice would you give someone currently looking for care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease?

There are so many places, and it’s extremely confusing. The biggest thing to look for is the level of care. You just can’t beat the 2 to 5 ratio. Unlike larger, corporate-owned centers, the caregivers at Our Family Home are able to adjust to the needs of each resident. The range of services and availability is off the charts. It’s impossible for another facility to do what they do. They can’t provide this level of care. It’s mathematically impossible.

Meet Latasha

Employee Spotlight: Latasha Smith
Assistant Lead Caregiver

What do you do for Our Family Home? 

I am an assistant lead caregiver for Our Family Home in Cincinnati. I help provide care for our residents.

How long have you worked with Our Family Home?

I have worked with Our Family Home for almost a year.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy caring for the residents, spending time interacting with them and putting a smile on their face. I also like the people. From Evan and the management to our families and team, it feels like we’re a family. I appreciate how we work like a team.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work? 

Outside of working at Our Family Home, I enjoy helping others and being with my daughter.

What have you learned working with the residents at Our Family Home? 

Working at Our Family Home, I have learned that each day is different and that I need to take it one day at a time. I’ve also learned communication skills and working hard to try to make every day a good day.

How does Our Family Home give residents and families more good days?

I think Our Family Home gives residents and staff more good days through our ratio. With two caregivers to five residents, we have more time to spend with residents. We’re able to go above and beyond to make residents happy. It’s also in the activities we do – monthly decorations, birthdays, celebrations – and doing what we can for our residents and their families each day.