How to Talk to Someone with Dementia about Quitting Driving

A Driving Test for the Person with Dementia
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1. Bring in an expert.

Consider asking someone outside the family to help. This can be a doctor, attorney, financial planner or dementia expert. Someone without an agenda who can objectively express concern may have more success than the person's adult child or spouse. It also keeps family members from constantly being "the bad guy."

2. Recognize the person's years of experience and give him respect.

Use respect.

If you don't have the luxury of having an outside person available to help and you're the adult child, avoid the tone of ordering your parent around. Instead, try this approach: "I know you've been driving for longer than I've been alive. In fact, you're the one who taught all of us how to drive so well."

3. Join in the person's feelings.

Instead of being on the opposing team, join the person by expressing the feelings he's demonstrating. Try this: "How frustrating to have people question you!" Or, "It's got to be strange for you to have someone worried about your driving. You've always been the one worried about them."

4. Find a reason that matters to the person.

Identify something that is likely to be motivating for the person, such as money potentially lost from a lawsuit if an accident occurred, loss of respect in the community, family guilt, police record, etc.

Sometimes, a particular reason will resonate more than another one and can make the difference between the successful and not-so-successful conversation.

5. Ask him if he's willing to try it.

As opposed to saying, "You need to stop driving," try this: "Would you be willing to try to ease up on the driving?" While you might not get the answer you're hoping for, typically people will be more likely to respond favorably to your request than your demand.

6. Be aware that you will need to have this conversation multiple times.

Perhaps you've had this difficult conversation and think you can check this off your list. While this is possible, don't be surprised if, in a few weeks, you need to press repeat and do it again. Why? Memory loss is a primary symptom of dementia, and it seems especially common with difficult topics. Plan on having multiple, smaller conversations rather than a one-time, "we're going to cover it all here" talk.  

7. Have a physician write a prescription that prohibits driving.

Sometimes, a written direction from the physician can be a helpful reminder and powerful tool to use to help someone stay safe by not driving.

8. Report the dementia diagnosis to the state's department of motor vehicles.

If your words are falling on deaf ears, you can ask the department of motor vehicles for help. Some states will require a person to retest if they're notified of a concern. While this may be very frustrating for the person with dementia, it may also be a way to monitor if he remains safe to drive or not.

9. Consider what you are going to substitute when driving is no longer an option.

If your loved one has always enjoyed driving around town, you may need to be creative in considering what meaningful activity you can offer instead.

Is it coffee with his friends with one of them coming to pick him up every Tuesday morning? Is it having him volunteer with the community gardening center?

10. Gradually shift from driver to passenger.

In the earlier stages of dementia, explain that you want to help him with this eventual transition and practice driving him around occasionally. Make arrangements to pick him up for dinner or to take him out to a ballgame.

11. It may be easier to stop driving in the early stages of dementia.

For some people, having the conversation and even stopping driving early in dementia is a better approach. Even though it may feel like a loss of ability earlier than necessary, it can also empower the person to be able to make this decision and have control over the timing.

This decision can also be thought of as a gift to their family members because they may be able to understand that this is one less area of concern that will develop as dementia progresses.

12. Arrange for an evaluation at a community rehabilitation program.

Many communities have rehabilitation programs that offer driving assessments. They often include cognitive testing as well as a hands-on testing of the driving ability. This is another way to get an "outside authority" involved in the process.

13. Talk with family members ahead of time to come to an agreement.

Before proceeding with a decision about driving, be sure to involve the pertinent family members in a conversation about this issue. You might assume that everyone is on the same page, but it's wise to ensure that this is the case. This will help prevent irritation between family members as well as reduce the chance of sending mixed messages to the person with dementia.

14. Disabling the car or taking the keys should be a last resort.

It's not uncommon for the person with dementia to call someone to get the car fixed or be able to locate duplicate keys. While there are certainly times that this step may be necessary for everyone's safety, the other approaches above typically are more effective and less distressing for all involved.


Alzheimer's Association. Dementia & Driving Resource Center. Accessed November 20, 2015.

Teepa Snow. Teepa Driving Clip. Accessed November 20, 2015.

Teepa Snow. Alzheimer's Dementia and Driving. Accessed November 20, 2015.

The Hartford. At the Crossroads: Family Conversations about Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia and Driving. 2010.

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