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Car Safety

Thursday August 25, 2022

For many of us in the Mid-South, a car is so much more than just a piece of helpful machinery. A car means mobility and independence. And if a car is taken away, that can mean your independence has been taken away, too. For this very reason, cars are often a difficult topic when caring for an aging parent or loved one with memory issues.

We’re not going to address your loved one’s ability to drive. (If you have questions about this, give us a call or talk to your loved one’s physician.) This post is for those whose loved ones are no longer driving. When your loved one can no longer drive, there are several things to consider to keep you and your loved one safe as you travel the roads.

Simple Car Tips

  1. Hide the keys.

While your loved one may have drastic cognitive decline, the act of driving is muscle memory. If they have the keys and want to drive, they might still be able to operate the car. This is dangerous for many reasons. They most likely cannot remember road safety protocols, and they most likely will not remember where they are.

  1. Never leave your loved one with dementia alone in the car.

They could drive off, release the emergency brake, wander off, and so much more.

  1. Keep the car doors locked while in motion.

Your loved one may decide to try to open the door while the car is in motion.

  1. In the later stages of dementia, consider having your loved one sit in the backseat.

The backseat may be safer, so you can engage the safety locks. Also, sitting in the backseat may feel safer for your loved one, so they are not forced to look at traffic, which can be overwhelming.

  1. Watch to see if your loved one needs help getting situated in the car.

You may need to close the door. Don’t forget to make sure their feet are in the car before you do this! Your loved one may need help with the seatbelt. If you see them struggling, say: “Can I help you with that seatbelt? It can be tricky sometimes.” Not: “Let me do that.”

Here is a good video on how to help your loved one in and out of the car when the person struggles to carry out that task on their own.

  1. Don’t force conversation.

If your loved one seems content to ride without conversation, don’t force it. Quiet is okay. Setting the radio to their preferred music at a lower volume might be good.

  1. Have a “just in case” bag.

In that bag, keep a change of clothes and underwear and an extra pair of shoes in case your loved one spills something or has an incontinence issue while away from home. In the summer, it might be wise to keep a fresh water bottle in the car. Your loved one can very easily become dehydrated. In the winter, keep a blanket, so if you have car trouble, you can keep your loved one warm while you wait for backup.

  1. Watch for signs of anxiety.

Be aware that riding in the car may cause your loved one anxiety for a variety of reasons – loss of control or confusion from traffic and not knowing where they are and where they are going. Some soft music may help. Try conversation as a distraction. Or you could try giving your loved one something to hold in their hands, like a stress ball or fidget item.

  1. Have your loved one sit on a pillowcase or reusable bed pad.

These move easier, and you can pull on these items to help position your loved one correctly in the car.

  1. Keep an Emergency ID card.

Imagine that you and your loved one are going to an appointment, and you have a wreck on the way. You are unconscious. Paramedics respond and your loved one cannot give them any reliable information, or your loved one wanders off. It would be good to have a card on you that says that you may be traveling with someone that has Alzheimer’s, so they know to look for that person. Your loved one also needs to have an ID card with some basic information – who to contact in case of emergency, allergies, etc. These could be lifesaving.

A sample
Another option
Or you can make a homemade version with the basic information.

  1. Use the car to go to necessary AND fun places.

You will have to use the car to go to potentially unpleasant places, like the doctor. Plan to also drive your loved one to fun places or places they like – ice cream, the park, etc.

Some of the information from this blog post comes from Coach Broyles’ Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers. We think this is a great resource! We have free copies here at the Center for you to have. You are always welcome to drop by and pick one up.

Written by Sheri Wammack, LBSW