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