Assessing my Alzheimer’s condition and/or that of my loved one!

Sometimes someone has to step up to the plate and simply remind us of certain kinds of dangers.  This could be one of those times.  As the Shepherd of God’s church, my concerns for people often involve life issues.  No doubt you are aware that there are many dangers along life’s path and as we get older we begin to experience certain conditions that could be dangerous to ourselves and others.  Alzheimer’s happens to be one of those conditions that we do not like to think about but sometimes becomes a reality in our lives.

Most of us understand that driving is a complex activity that requires quick thinking and reactions as well as good perceptual abilities.  Considering that truth we can understand that driving becomes a real safety issue.  This is true, not only for the driver but also for others who might be involved in an accident that an Alzheimer’s patient has brought about because of reduced ability to handle complex activities like driving.

Now understanding the complexity of driving, we also need to understand the importance of he person’s feelings and perceived loss of independence when explaining why he or she can no longer safely drive a vehicle.  If a person has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, it helps to honestly accept that diagnosis  and consider the impact on our life.  For the family, helping the person with dementia make the decision to stop driving before it has to be forced can help maintain a positive sense of self-esteem.

So how can I understand when the time has come to stop driving?  Here are some things to look for in our own lives and the lives of family members which could be signs of unsafe driving:

  1. Forgetting how to locate familiar places.  It could be as simple as having a pattern of not remembering where we parked our car in a parking lot.
  2. Developing a pattern of failing to observe traffic signs.
  3. Driving at an inappropriate speed, particularly if one is driving very slowly and creating traffic hazards because of the increasing inability to make good decisions in traffic.
  4. Becoming confused while driving, losing track of where one is and having to pull to the side of the road to gain orientation.

If we recognize some of the above, it is time to talk further with our doctor and our family members about the reality of where we find our self on the path of life.  For a patient with dementia who should not be driving, the initial consultation concerning driving should perhaps be done by the doctor involved with the patient. All involved should remember that this is not the end of the world but there are changes that probably need to be made.  The changes involved will not only affect the dementia patient, but also will most certainly affect other family members.  Approach life changes with a positive attitude that God will supply the needs involved and that “we can” accomplish what needs to be done.  [i.e. Philippians chapter four)

Rev. Tom Shelton