To Drive or Not to Drive: That Is the Question if You Have Parkinson’s

Samantha Felder avatar

by Samantha Felder |

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I often get asked if a person can drive after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The answer is yes. Some are able to drive for many years after a diagnosis. However, we must consider the safety of everyone on the road, including ourselves. The last thing we want is for a police officer to call our loved ones to tell them we’re dead or that we’ve killed someone.

According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, a patient’s nonmotor symptoms are more of a factor in stopping driving than motor symptoms. These include cognition issues, such as memory and delayed action time, that go along with Parkinson’s. Additionally, medications might cause drowsiness, which could be deadly behind the wheel.

If you have Parkinson’s and have the same questions, the following insight might be helpful.

First, when the disease starts progressing, your doctor might advise you to complete a reaction time assessment. I’ve completed this assessment a couple of times in my 10 years of living with Parkinson’s. The test starts with cognitive assessments, including drawing a clock, completing a letter-to-number, dot-to-dot test, and stating a list of objects that start with a given letter for one minute.

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Once you have completed the cognitive assessment, you’re given two reaction tests. One involves a driving simulator, where administrators calculate how long it takes you to slam on the brakes when a brake light flashes. During this test, the administrator will try to distract you to see if you can multitask. The last assessment is what I call the “Wall of Death,” as it’s a sustained reaction test. There is a wall full of buttons that light up in all different directions that you have to press in a given amount of time.

After all of these exams are completed, you will either be approved to continue driving, need to make changes to your driving routine, or possibly stop driving. Even if you pass with flying colors, it’s important to take into account your symptoms throughout the day.

It’s vital to have a conversation with your loved ones and come up with reasonable expectations for driving. These might include only driving during daylight hours, staying within a given radius, and assessing what to do if you’re out by yourself and don’t feel up to driving safely.

What happens if you have to give up driving? You have a few options. One that comes to mind first is relying on friends and family. I personally feel bad about having to rely on my family to get me to different places, but they understand and want me to make the smart decision. Some of your other options are buses, trains, elder care transportation services, and paratransit services, where individuals will pick you up and take you where you have to go.

Just remember that your life is not over if you have to give up driving. Your safety is the most important thing. Drive safely and #Embrace the shake.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

Comments

Mike avatar

Mike

Samantha,
What a good question. For me at 65 I will not give up driving. I try and be very careful. Before I was a Reckless driver. Now I am extremely cautious and try to avoid driving at night. I justify my position by saying my wife and I need me to drive. I continue to wait for an affordable self-driving car. Your question requires more honesty than I can currently offer. Blessings, Mike

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Angela Marie McClelland avatar

Angela Marie McClelland

HI , I am worried about my husband. He was OK'ed to drive. He has ongoing dyskinesia especially with his legs, We cannot talk in the vehicle as he gets distracted. He does like to drive but gets tired driving long distances.

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B RM Reddi avatar

B RM Reddi

I am 70 I am still driving both my scoooter and also car I am better off with car so I will give up scooter now

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Alan Tobey avatar

Alan Tobey

To be helpful to all, let's not casually mention public transit options as if they're a last resort. With one device we all carry with us -- a smart phone -- and one of the mapping apps it will come with, the game is very different than the bus or train service we. knew in our youth.

Once I know that my destination is within a transit service's coverage zone, all I have to do is type in or dictate the destination and I'm given detailed directions on a map and via a cheerful voice that announces the next thing to do. in plenty of time to prepare. No more fumbling with paper maps that at best may show a big picture. You don't even need to write down any route numbers; your guide-in-your-pocket will take care of all that. If you have an appointment to keep, enter your time and the map will tell you when and where to start.

Though of course not every place has adequate transit service, where it does it can change your sense of personal independence. Instead of being limited to kindness-of-friends transit, you can become a master of part of your world. Even if you still drive, you may even find that leaving the car at home and hopping on a bus is a far better goal to have.

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