Memory Loss and Driving

There are some activities in life that when you learn how to do, you will never forget, for example, riding a bike, how to tie your shoes, swimming, driving a car, etc. All of these tasks, when learned, will be automatically and unconsciously executed by your brain without the need for thinking or preparation.

The most recent U.S. Census survey found that 92 percent of American households owned at least one vehicle, which means that there are 275,913,237 personal and commercial vehicles registered to drivers in the United States.  

With this huge number of cars in the country, it is more likely that all drivers know how to drive, but with different methods and habits. Some like to speed more, while others drive slower. Some people can’t drive without music or a podcast playing, but some prefer silence. Those habits can change during the years of driving, but you will never forget the basic, how to drive a car.  

According to the U.S. Census survey and to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), only 8 percent of American households did not own a car, and the majority of Americans own at least one car, with 37.1 percent owning two vehicles and 21.9 percent owning three or more vehicles. Another interesting number that the survey provided is how young drivers (16-19) and senior drivers and senior drivers over 65 drove a similar annual mileage of around 7,600 miles.

The reason of the small number of miles driven by these two groups is because the young drivers are learning how to actually drive an automotive, and the seniors are in the age where driving is not a necessity anymore to go to work and get paid, since most of them are retired. However, another reason for the reduction of people over the age of 65 behind the wheel is the memory loss.

The loss of memory or Alzheimer disease is most common in people over the age of 65. The risk of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia increases with age, affecting an estimated 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 and 1 in every 6 people over the age of 80.

A study from the United Kingdom National Health Service, said that memory loss in itself is not a specific reason to people from driving, but the condition of the driver will get worse. One study found that people with Alzheimer’s had an average of 0.09 car crashes per year, compared to 0.04 crashes in age-matched healthy adults. Another study found that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease in the mild cognitive impairment and very mild dementia stages had impairments similar to 16-to 20-year-old drivers.

What are the procedures for a driver who was diagnosed with Alzheimer?

Dr. Andrew E. Budson, who is chief of cognitive & behavioral neurology at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, said that if someone was diagnosed with Alzheimer or a memory disorder, the best thing to do is ask for a family member (or close friend) to ride in the car with the person each month. The presence of another person brings more safety, caution and make sure the driver isn’t endangering himself or others on the road.

When driving with a memory loss or Alzheimer, how it is possible to reduce the risks on the road?

·      Driving short distances

·      Driving on familiar roads

·      Driving at quieter times of the day

·      Driving during the day

On the other hand, people who has memory loss or Alzheimer, should avoid:

·      Drive long journeys

·      Drive at night

·      Drive in heavy traffic

·      Drive in unfamiliar roads

If you have more questions about the subject, The American Academy of Neurology has published guidelines to help clinicians know when individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias should stop driving. These guidelines have subsequently been validated by a caregiver survey.