Driving with Medical Conditions

You have been a safe driver for years. For you, driving means freedom and control. As you get older, changes in your body and your mind can affect how safely you drive.  If you are an older driver with a medical condition, or if you are a concerned caregiver,these resources will help you learn how medical conditions can affect driving, what to do if you're experiencing or witnessing certain warning signs, and where to learn more about medical conditions. 

 

Alzheimer's and Dementia

Alzheimer's and Dementia

Millions of people have Alzheimer’s disease. If you or someone you know has Alzheimer’s, talk with your family and your health care provider about it and how this disease can affect your driving safety.

How Can Alzheimer’s Affect the Way I Drive?

Below are early warning signs that Alzheimer’s may be affecting your driving safety.

  • Need more help with directions or with learning a new driving route.
  • Trouble remembering where you are going.
  • Forget where you parked your car.
  • Trouble making turns, especially left turns.
  • Misjudge gaps in traffic at street crossings and on highway ramps.
  • Trouble seeing or following traffic lights and road signs.
  • Get traffic citations or “warnings”.
  • Drivers often honk their horns at you.
  • Stop at a green light, or hit your brakes at the wrong time.
  • Trouble staying in your driving lane.
  • Less muscle control. Hard to push down on pedals or turn steering wheel.
  • Find dents and scrapes you cannot explain on your car, fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs.
  • Other people question if you are driving safely.
  • Cannot control your anger, sadness, or other emotions that can affect your driving.

What Should I Do if I Have Any of These Signs?

As soon as you notice one or more of these warning signs:

  • Tell your family or someone close.
  • See your health care provider.

Arthritis

Arthritis

Millions of people have arthritis. It causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in your body. If you have arthritis, talk with your family and health care provider about how it can affect your driving.

How Can Arthritis Affect the Way I Drive?

Arthritis can stop you from moving and bending your shoulders, hips, hands, head, and neck. This can limit your ability to:

  • Get into and out of your car.
  • Hold and turn your steering wheel.
  • Turn on your ignition key.
  • Fasten your seat belt.
  • Move your head quickly and fully.
  • Look over your shoulder to check for cars in your blind spot.
  • Look left and right at intersections.
  • Make turns safely.
  • Reverse your car into a parking space.
  • Press the clutch pedal.
  • Press the brake and accelerator, especially in heavy traffic or driving during rush hours.
  • Look for oncoming traffic.

Medicine for arthritis pain can make you sleepy. It may cause you to drift into another traffic lane, which can be dangerous for you and others.

What Should I Do if I Have Any of These Signs?

As soon as you notice one or more of these warning signs:

  • Tell your family or someone you trust.
  • See your health care provider.
  • Find out about treatments that can help your joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, without making you sleepy

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system that weakens certain nerve cells in the brain over time. It changes the way your body moves. While it can occur at any age, it especially affects people 60 and older.

If you have Parkinson’s, it can interfere with your daily activities, including driving safely. Early symptoms vary from person to person, but often include slow movement; stiffness of the arms, legs, or trunk; tremors or shaking while at rest; and problems with balance and falls.

How Can Parkinson’s Affect the Way I Drive?

Parkinson’s can cause your arms, hands, or legs to shake, even when you are relaxed. It can make it hard to keep your balance and to start moving when you have been still. It also may prevent you from:

  • Reacting quickly to road hazards.
  • Turning the steering wheel.
  • Using the gas pedal or pushing down the brake when you need to react quickly.
  • Driving safely at night because of changes in your vision.

What Should I Do If I Have Any of These Signs?

As soon as you notice any of these warning signs:

  • • Tell your family or someone close to you.
  • • Talk to your health care provider about ways to treat your condition. Some drugs may affect your ability to drive safely.
  • • Stay active. Exercise regularly to strengthen muscles you need to drive safely

Stroke

Stroke

Driving is a major concern after you have a stroke. A stroke is a “brain attack” that occurs when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted. A stroke makes brain cells die and damages the brain. Brain injury may change the way you do things, especially your ability to drive safely.

How Can a Stroke Affect the Way I Drive?

At first, you may not realize all the effects of the stroke. So it is crucial that you talk with your family and work closely with your health care provider before you start driving again after you have a stroke.

Below are some ways a stroke may affect the way you drive:

  • You may not be able to speak, to think or see clearly, or to control your body.
  • You may have temporary or permanent weakness or paralysis on one side of your body.
  • You may be forgetful, careless, or irritable.
  • You may get frustrated easily and be confused while driving.
  • You may drift across lane markings, into other lanes.

Can I Still Drive After a Stroke?

You may be able to drive after a stroke. It depends on where the stroke took place in your brain and how much damage it caused. Many people recover after a stroke and are able to drive safely. But many others will have some type of disability afterward. Your health care provider will tell you how the stroke affected you, and when and if you can drive.

It is important to note that in many areas, it is dangerous and even illegal to drive after a stroke without your doctor’s consent.

What Can I Do When a Stroke Affects My Driving Safety?

You may not realize how a stroke has changed your ability to drive safely. After initial treatment, your health care provider can tell you about warning signs and symptoms of stroke. Warning signs tend to come on suddenly and may include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Severe headache with no known cause.

Your health care provider can give you information about rehabilitation after the stroke. He or she also may suggest that you see a driver rehabilitation specialist to help you adjust to any changes caused by the stroke. A driver rehabilitation specialist can test how well you drive on and off the road. This specialist also may help you improve your driving skills by training you to use special equipment that can be fitted on your car to make it easier for you to drive safely.

Vision Disorders

Vision Disorders

Eyesight often gets worse as you age. Eye diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are more common in older people.

How Can Vision Disorders Affect the Way I Drive?

Cataracts can make it harder for you to see the road, street signs, lane markers, and even people and bicyclists in the road. Here are some warning signs:

  • Difficulty seeing clearly at dawn, dusk, and at night.
  • Sunlight may seem too bright.
  • Night driving is harder due to glare from car headlights.
  • Colors look faded.
  • Seeing double images in one eye.
  • Sudden changes in prescriptions for your eyeglasses or contact lenses.
  • Slowly losing your peripheral (side) vision
  • Dull and blurry vision.
  • Inability to recognize people's faces.
  • Difficulty seeing on a cloudy day, or while driving at sunrise, sunset, or at nighttime.
  • Difficulty managing the glare from bright sunlight and oncoming headlights.

What Should I Do if I Have Any of These Signs?

As soon as you notice one or more of these warning signs—

  • Tell your family or someone close to you.
  • See your eye health care provider.

What Can I Do When A Medical Condition Affects My Driving Safety?

It is important to understand how over time medical conditions can change your driving safety. Your health care provider may suggest that you see a specialist to help you adjust to these changes.

Two types of specialists can help you:

  • A driver rehabilitation specialist can test how well you drive on and off the road. This specialist also can help you decide when you need to stop driving. 
  • An occupational therapist with special training in driving skills assessment and remediation. To find an occupational therapist, contact local hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

What Can I Do If I Have to Limit or Stop Driving?

Your health care provider will tell you what to do to manage your symptoms so you stay safe on the road. Even if you have to limit or give up driving, you can stay active and do the things you like to do.

First, plan ahead.

Talk with family and friends about how you can shift from driver to passenger. Below are some ways to get where you want to go and see the people you want to see:

  • Rides with family and friends. 
  • Taxis.
  • Shuttle buses or vans.
  • Public buses, trains, and subways.
  • Walking.
  • Para transit services (special transportation services for people with disabilities; some offer door-to-door service).

Take someone with you. You may want to have a family member or friend go with you when you use public transportation or when you walk. Having someone with you can help you get where you want to go without confusion.

Find out about transportation services in your area. Many community-based volunteer programs offer free or low-cost transportation.


  Reprinted from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Used with permission