Driving with Alzheimer’s: When it’s time to take away the keys

Alzheimer’s Disease

(WTNH) — There are many troubling times for those battling Alzheimer’s. One of which is when to take away the keys.

Getting a driver’s license is a sign of independence, and probably one of the first times in a person’s life that they truly feel on their own.

But later in life, there comes a time for most people where they need to hand over the keys to protect themselves and others. But it sounds much easier than it is.

Joan Cramer is a certified driver rehabilitation specialist. She’s no stranger to the difficulties that come with finding the right moment to take away someone’s driving privileges.

“If someone has memory issues sometimes that type of visual impairment is more scary for driving than if they need glasses or squint a little bit,” she explained.

RELATED: Connecticut couple still keeping their love alive while battling Alzheimer’s

Cramer helps families faced this difficult moment. She uses research-based testing to determine when a person should stop driving.

She has the participant do different mazes and puzzles and then uses those results to see if it’s time to take away the keys.

It’s a predicament a lot of people face, especially when dealing with a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. People like Grace and Bill Martin.

“I was letting him drive,” Grace explained. “We have a cottage in Rhode Island, and I was letting him drive there back and forth in the beginning, and it was fine

Bill was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago at the young age of 57.

“The lights red and he’s not stopping,” Grace recounted. “And I’m like, ‘stop, stop,’ you know? And the more he would let up and keep going and then let up…”

It was in that scary moment they knew it was time for Bill to give up his keys.

“You kind of like wait for moments to take that next step,” Grace said. “You don’t want it to be he gets in an accident and then you take away his license, so there’s a fine line between.”

Bill willingly gave up his license, but not everyone does.

“My father had the same thing; diagnosed at 70 passed away at 80,” Grace said of her father, who had Alzheimer’s. He passed away two years before Bill received his diagnosis.

She said taking her father’s keys away was more of a challenge.

“My father on the other hand…gave his car away; thought someone stole it. He was angry, but I’m so glad he’s [Bill] not.”

As it often is with this disease, every case is individual and much different. The best thing any loved one or caregiver can do is have patience and find what works best for them.

So, how does one know when it’s time to take the keys away? Everyone and every diagnosis are different, but some key signs are:

  • Forgetting where they’re driving to or from.
  • Confusion while driving.
  • Not paying attention to traffic signs.

For any questions about dementia and driving, please call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/Helpline at 1-800-272-3900 or go to alz.org/ct.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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