Are you still driving with Parkinson’s disease? Check out some safety considerations and pointers for determining if it’s time to turn over the keys. Plus, explore how others with PD have handled this tricky topic and see some alternate ways of getting around.
Considerations for driving with PD + 7 questions to ask yourself
“You will likely be able to drive safely and legally for several years, depending on your age and general physical condition,” according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “However, Parkinson’s disease eventually affects reaction time, ability to handle multiple tasks, vision and judgment.”
Everyone with PD is living with their own mix of motor and non-motor symptoms, rate of disease progression, and reaction to medication (such as levodopa “ons and offs”) — all of which can affect driving abilities.
There are currently no set guidelines for neurologists to determine someone’s fitness to drive, so doctors consider patients’ skills and symptoms on a case-by-case basis, according to ParkinsonsDisease.net. They recommend considering these questions to help determine if you’re still fit to drive:
- How is my vision? Can I see well at night? Can I distinguish colors, such as in traffic lights?
- Would I be putting my passenger (friend or loved one) at risk?
- How fast is my reaction time? Could I safely avoid a surprise obstacle in the road?
- Has anyone (friend or family member) commented negatively on my ability to drive?
- Can I handle multiple activities at the same time (whether driving or not)?
- Can I effectively and quickly turn the wheel or step on the brake with enough strength?
- Do any of my medications cause side effects like sleepiness, dizziness, blurred vision, or confusion?
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety published this self-assessment quiz and booklet for the general population of drivers ages 65+, but your own evaluation of your driving (and even your doctor’s assessment) may not capture all the true risks.
PatientsLikeMe members have talked about how you can get a driving assessment to help you independently determine your driving abilities (click here to learn more about different types of professional driving assessments; note: these assessments are not covered by Medicare or private health insurance and you should ask if the results may be shared with your state and affect the status of your driver’s license).
Older drivers can also attend a (confidential) CarFit event, where a team of trained technicians and/or health professionals work with you to ensure you “fit” your vehicle properly for maximum comfort and safety.
Your community’s experiences
Join PatientsLikeMe or log in to see what members have said about the challenges of giving up their keys — as well as the potential bright side, such as no longer having to stress about driving (and associated costs, like car payments, insurance and gas) and — more importantly — possibly hurting someone.
Karl Robb (our blog partner), who has young-onset PD, has written about how he realized he gave up driving at age 30 because of worsening dyskinesia. “Relinquishing the keys to your car is a selfless act of caring and compassion,” he says in a piece for the Parkinson’s Foundation. “It shows that you care about yourself and those who may be put in harm’s way.”
Getting around town
Thinking about giving up or reducing your driving? Look into public transportation or free/reduced-cost transportation services in your area, and ask friends and family for rides (it can help to plan ahead and have a set calendar or day of each week for running errands with them).
“Turns out it is a good time to be a non-driver,” notes one member. “Surely you have heard of LYFT and Uber? They offer inexpensive rides in many US cities. maybe your family could set you up with one.” (See the growing list of cities that Lyft and Uber serve, as well as ever-expanding delivery services, like Instacart for groceries and medications/pharmacy goods.)
Also, explore these other transportation resources:
- National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC): 866-983-3222
- Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging: 1-800-677-1116
- Disabled American Veterans (DAV) – military veterans can consult the Hospital Service Coordinator Directory to ask about transportation services
- AAA’s searchable map of local transportation programs for seniors
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