Alzheimer’s and Driving: When is it Time to Take Away the Keys?

Alzheimer’s disease is something that no one wants to talk about, but with more than 500,000 people diagnosed each year – it’s becoming increasingly important to know the warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s before a crisis occurs.

As many Americans have been driving since they were a teenager, having the ability to drive is the key to one’s independence and freedom. But with age comes cognitive decline – and when you add Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to the mix, the consequences can suddenly become more dire. As hard as it can be, when is it time to consider taking away the keys?

Warning Signs of Unsafe Driving

When it comes to driving, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs that indicate a person exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may be unsafe behind the wheel, including:


      • forgetting directions

      • getting lost in a familiar part of town

      • confusion at traffic signals.

    Of course, these are just some of the most common warning signs—there are many others. That’s why it’s so important to take them seriously when they’re noticed. If you notice these signs in your loved one, it’s important not to overreact in the moment. When you feel that the time is right, talk to them about driving and mention some of the symptoms you have observed. This may be a great time to bring up alternative transportation methods available to senior adults.

    Having the Conversation

    If you’re thinking about having the conversation with a loved one about giving up driving, it’s important to remember that this is a sensitive topic. You want your loved one to be safe, but you also need them to feel like they can trust you enough to make a decision together.

    When addressing your concerns with your loved one, it’s important to remember the following:


        • Emphasize safety concerns—but don’t be too forceful

        • Discuss alternative transportation options

        • Involve healthcare providers

      There’s not a right or wrong way to have these conversations; the important thing is to keep an open mind and truly listen to your loved one’s perspective. Remember, they may feel that their independence is being threatened, so it’s vital to make them know that you want to help them preserve their independence instead of take it away.

      Coping with the Transition

      Losing the ability to drive can be a time of great emotional and physical stress. While giving up driving is the safe alternative to having an accident and injuring themselves or someone else, it’s almost always seen by the older adult as a negative consequence of having done something wrong.

      Here are some strategies for coping with the transition of turning in the keys:


          • Stay connected with friends and family. If this is the first time you’ve had to rely on others for transportation, you may feel lonely or isolated. Try finding ways to spend time with people face-to-face, like going out to lunch or meeting up at a coffee shop.

          • Find new hobbies and interests that don’t involve driving somewhere. Whether you’re interested in painting or photography, cooking or gardening, there are many activities that meet virtually or don’t require a car to enjoy.

          • Use community resources for transportation. If your city has public transportation options or other transportation services available at low cost (or even free!), try taking advantage of these opportunities.

        There are many things to consider and plan when it comes to your loved one losing their driving ability – and the conversation is never easy. But there is hope, and you’re never alone in the process. By knowing what to expect, and then taking action proactively before a crisis sets in, you can rest easier knowing that your loved one is safer because of you cared enough to start the conversation. At The Lodge at Stephens Lake, we’re here to help you in the transition. If you’d like to speak to a community relations director, please call 706-307-4330 or go online to

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