Dementia and Driving: Autonomy Versus Safety

Authors

  • Charlene Hoffman Snyder MSN, APRN, NP-BC

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      Author
      Charlene Hoffman Snyder, MSN, APRN, NP-BC, is a Nurse Practitioner in the Department of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.


Contact Ms. Snyder by e-mail at snyder.charlene@mayo.edu

Abstract

Purpose

This article reviews the effects of various types of dementia on driving skills, the available assessment measures, legal considerations, and the important role played by the nurse practitioner (NP) in the process of recommending driving cessation. It provides strategies and resources that may offer guidance to NPs who are attempting to balance the continued independence of patients with dementia, as represented by driving, with the safety not only of such patients but also of the public at large.

Data sources

A review of the biomedical literature, resources available on the World Wide Web, and illustrative case studies were used.

Conclusions

The diagnosis of dementia alone is often insufficient to determine driver competence because the topographic losses of dementia are complex. Recognizing when cessation should occur is made more difficult because objective assessment tools do not exist to predict impaired driving skills. Recommending driving cessation at the appropriate time can be a challenge for NPs, who must balance such a significant impact on the driver's autonomy with concerns about public safety if the patient continues to drive despite progressive impairment.

Implications for practice

The progressive loss of cognitive abilities in dementia presents a series of ongoing challenges for the patient throughout the disease continuum. Unfortunately, the recommendation to stop driving can present one of the more immediate issues confronting the patient, the family, and the healthcare provider. Failure to assess diminished driving skill can lead either to premature or to delayed driving cessation. Either outcome can have adverse effects on the patient, the patient's family, and public safety.

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