Driving and Dementia: 12 warning signs for knowing when to hang up the keys

Driving and Dementia: 12 warning signs for knowing when to hang up the keys

May 14 – 20 is National Road Safety Week, and now that we are finally seeing a glimpse of spring, it’s a good time to reflect on our own driving habits so that we can be sure that we are all safe on the road.

For people living with dementia, knowing when it’s time to stop driving is difficult. Driving represents freedom and independence and it is not something that anyone wants to give up. Many people in the early stages of dementia can continue to drive safely and competently; however, because dementia is a progressive condition, it can be a challenge to know when to hang up the keys. Here are a few of the warning signs to look for:

1) Using improper speed or stopping in traffic for no apparent reason 7) Relying on a co-driver or refusing passengers like family and friends
2) Being confused about when to stop or change lanes 8) Becoming nervous or irritated about driving
3) Getting lost on familiar roads 9) Not being able to make sound judgments on the road – avoiding near misses, not braking in time, driving too fast in inclement weather
4) Driving in the wrong direction 10) Deteriorating eye, hand, leg coordination and reflexes
5) Using improper signalling 11) Receiving increased number of traffic violations or police warnings
6) Ignoring traffic lights and signs – thinking ‘green’ means stop and ‘red’ means go 12) Misjudging widths and distances, resulting in an unusual number of small dents or scrapes on the person’s vehicle.


If you believe it’s time for you or someone you care for to stop driving, here are a few resources that can help:

  • Raise the issue of driving early to help encourage the person with dementia to participate in decisions about driving.
  • Talk to your family doctor. Physicians are legally responsible to report patients who have a medical condition that may impair their driving.
  • Driver testing and licensing rules vary by province. It is best to check with your provincial Ministry of Transportation for current rules.
  • Discuss your concerns with family or friends with similar experiences.
  • Contact your local Alzheimer Society. Staff are equipped to help you resolve challenging issues and point you in the right direction.


Jim Mann of BC shares a few of his personal experiences living with dementia, including when he decided to give up his driver’s license:

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