When Seniors with Dementia Should Stop Driving

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Can a Test Determine When Seniors with Dementia Should Stop Driving

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When a senior develops early symptoms of dementia, family members often become concerned about whether he or she should continue driving. However, telling a loved one to stop driving can easily lead to conflict. One way to avoid arguments and minimize tension is to schedule an assessment using the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale and get a neutral third-party opinion on your loved one’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.

The Test

The level of dementia experienced by a person is most commonly measured using a test called the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale. Individuals with mild dementia score a 0.5 or a 1, and individuals with moderate to severe dementia score a 2 or 3. El Dorado County elder care professionals agree that seniors with a 0.5 score can continue to drive, and seniors with a score of 2 or higher should give up the keys. However, whether or not seniors who score a 1 are able to drive safely is still under debate.

A Score of 1

Some doctors have suggested that anyone who scores a 1 on the test should immediately stop driving, but roughly 75 percent of individuals with mild dementia are fully capable of passing a driver’s test, and some studies suggest that a physician’s subjective assessment of a patient’s ability to drive are highly inaccurate. Another study found that the use of a GPS system was able to correct for topographical deficiencies in seniors with mild dementia, rendering them quite capable of driving safely. 

Caregiver Concerns

A large study of individuals with dementia reported that only 5.5 percent discontinued driving due to accidents or an inability to pass a driving test. The primary reason for discontinuing driving, according to 93.8 percent of participants, was concern on the part of the at-home caregiver. There was no correlation between scores on the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale and the level of concern expressed by the caregiver. The majority of seniors with dementia who ceased driving due to caregiver concerns were women with a Clinical Dementia Score of 1.0, suggesting possible gender bias affecting caregiver concerns, especially considering the very low rate of traffic accidents among seniors with mild dementia who continue to drive.

Screening Does Not Improve Safety

Another study reported that mandatory cognitive screening of older drivers using a test similar to the Clinical Dementia Score had no effect on the number of traffic accidents in the area implementing the screening. Meaning seniors who score a 1.0 on the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale may in fact be able to safely drive.

After a dementia diagnosis, the future can seem uncertain, but you, your family, and your senior loved one don’t have to face it alone. Home Care Assistance is a trusted provider of El Dorado County dementia care, providing support and resources for families through every stage of the disease. For more information, please call a dedicated Care Manager at (916) 358-3801 or (530) 409-4411 and request a free in-home consultation today.