Anyone diagnosed with dementia will eventually have to make the decision whether it is safe for them to continue driving, but that inevitability doesn't make the decision any easier.
Two doctors with decades of experience in gerontology hope a website they launched last month will be a guide to the way forward for people, both those with dementia and those trying to help them.
"Driving is one of the most cognitively demanding things that any one of us do on a very regular basis," geriatrician Gary Naglie told Island Morning host Laura Chapin.
"One of the most challenging issues that I have to deal with when it comes to my patients has to do with the issue, when they reach a point that their medical condition is making them unsafe to to drive, and how emotional and challenging that issue is."
In the experience of many patients, says geriatric psychiatrist Mark Rapoport, hearing that you can no longer drive is almost as bad as the dementia diagnosis itself.
"Patients get very upset. They often fire their family doctor if it's the family doctor that raises it, and nobody wants to talk about it," said Rapaport.
"Our patients don't want to talk about it, their family members don't want to talk about it."
Identifying the signs
Naglie and Rapaport's Driving and Dementia Roadmap website is designed to make the process easier.
The website is organized to guide people through the process of a decision to stop driving, from the perspective of health care providers, family or friends, or the person with dementia. It identifies some of the common signs that driving is impaired, and opens the discussion of the emotional impact of the decision.
The hope is that by involving the patient more in the process, the decision will be a little easier.
Through a series of questions, patients and the people close to them can learn to identify the signs that the disease is beginning to impair driving. Those signs include difficulty staying in your lane or maintaining a constant speed. Left hand turns may become more challenging.
Slowing down at a green light is also a warning sign. This happens because the driver will recognize they are approaching signal lights, but are slower to process whether the light is green or red.
'Dangerous behind the wheel'
The decision to stop driving can be made more difficult, said Rapaport, because it often comes quickly after a diagnosis.
"Dementia is often diagnosed late, in moderate or severe stages, that means by that stage people are pretty dangerous behind the wheel," he said.
Driving skills are impacted even in mild cases of dementia, said Rapaport.
Both doctors say they hope the website will not only make decisions easier, but get dangerous drivers off the road sooner.