The Michael Fox Organization published an article written by Dr. Rachel Dolhun on driving and Parkinson’s disease. Obviously, a person with advanced Parkinson’s disease can no longer drive, but when should one stop who has not yet reached an advanced state?
Dr.Dolhun points out that driving is not just a way to get from one place to another, but driving is an important way to keep up contact with family and friends and is a great tool for socialization.
Driving Involves Many Different Brain Functions
While driving seems so easy for normal people in truth it is a very complex procedure that involves many different parts of the brain that have to work simultaneously such as:
You need to see properly where you are going and to be able to read signs and see people and other cars in front of you and behind you.
You need to remember how to drive and what you are doing and to be able to think clearly and sometimes make quick decisions. You need to remember that you have to stop at a red light, where you parked your car and where you are going.
Parkinson’s is a disease that little by little disables motor function. You have to be able to quickly turn your head when backing up and you need to be flexible at the steering wheel and also just be able to easily get in and out of the car. People with Parkinson’s suffer from uncontrollable tremors, rigid muscles, slowness and uncontrolled movements.
You need to hear horns, beeps, sirens and even people who may call out to you from other cars or from the street.
You need to be able to feel with your feet the gas pedal, the brakes and be able to apply the right pressure.
Alertness and Attention
Your mind needs to be alert and attentive to everything going on around you when you are at the wheel of a car. Many drugs given to Parkinson’s patients can also affect alertness or cause drowsiness.
If any one of the above is not in working order there is already a danger to your life and the lives of others.
Family Members may be Concerned about Safety
People with Parkinson’s disease are not always reasonable and it may not be easy to convince a loved one that their driving days have come to an end. This is coupled with the fact that many people with Parkinson’s disease have a tendency to depression, so losing the independence and freedom to get up and go and drive somewhere to meet friends or family members can have a devastating effect on someone with Parkinson’s disease.
Slow-moving, but also Hyperactive and Impulsive
Also, even though people with Parkinson’s disease are among the slowest moving human beings, some of them exhibit a kind of hyperactivity and impulsiveness. An example would be an elderly man with advanced Parkinson’s who tries to go off alone on a trip to the desert.
Limits on Driving
Dr. Dolhun suggests that even though eventually the person with Parkinson’s may no longer be able to drive at all, perhaps some limited driving can be allowed depending on the physical limitations of the disease. The problem with this is that a motor skill may only show up its new weakness while someone is in the midst of driving.
Another suggestion is to encourage people with Parkinson’s in the earlier stages to use public transportation where they can still get out, but someone else is at the wheel.
Consultation with Therapists
She also says there are cases where consultation with an occupational therapist or a driving rehabilitation therapist may be helpful.
Most People with Advanced Parkinson’s will Sooner or Later Need Long-term Skilled Nursing Care
The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York offers skilled nursing care at its best and also has recreational programs tailored to the individual needs of each patient.
Obviously the danger to life must take precedence over anyone’s feelings and the ideal situation is where the person with Parkinson’s disease realizes themselves that it is time to stop. Unfortunately, many people with Parkinson’s lose the ability to be reasonable.