In today’s world driving is not only necessary, but it gives us freedom and independence. Unfortunately there may come a time that driving is no longer safe. Many people with Parkinson’s disease will be able to drive for years after their diagnosis, and maybe they will never have to stop driving due to safety concerns. But for some, they will. Let’s talk about what you need to know about driving and Parkinson’s.
Skills that are needed to drive:
Good reaction times
Ability to multitask
Parkinson’s symptoms that can make driving difficult
Tremor in legs, arms, and hands
Change in vision
Worsening of depth perception
Slower reaction time
Signs that you should reconsider your driving:
Significant medication “off” periods
Getting lost easily
Driving slower than most other people on the road
Difficulty switching between lanes
Drifting in and out of your lane
Forgetting to use your traffic signals
Forgetting to turn your headlights on
Missing cyclists, pedestrians, or others who are sharing the road
Receiving lots of tickets
Getting into/frequently coming close to fender benders.
Your family being concerned
Medications can that impact driving:
There are many medications that have side effects such as sleepiness, dizziness, blurred vision, and confusion. These side effects can impact the safety of driving. Some of these episode effects are found in carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet), amantadine, dopamine agonists and anticholinergics. Not everyone will experience these side effects but it is important to talk with your neurologist about it. Sometimes it can be a minor medication adjustment that will reduce side effects and make you more safe with driving.
opioid pain relievers
prescription drugs for anxiety (benzodiazepines)
motion sickness medication
Some cold and allergy medications
Medications that contain zolpidem, especially in an extended release form can impair driving into the next morning.
Brand names that have zolpidem:
Ambien and Ambien CR
How to improve your safety with driving:
Do exercises that will help stretch and strengthen your neck and trunk. You need to be able to rotate your neck to see traffic. Keeping your mobility is important!
Avoid driving at night. Nighttime driving can be tough for those with fatigue and poor vision.
Do not drive during “off” times, when starting a new medication.
Do not drive when you feel tired or fatigued.
Take a defensive driving course! These courses can lower your insurance premium and help you stay safe.
Take a driving assessment to make sure you are safe. You can contact your local DMV for an assessment.
Do a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS) assessment. These professionals give tests both on and off the road to see if, and how, Parkinson’s affects your driving.
Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists: 866-672-9466
Donna Stressel is our local DRS located in Schenectady, NY
What if I can’t drive?
Visit www.eldercare.gov or call the national ElderCare Locator at 800-677-1116 to find local transportation. You can also ask for your local Office on Aging.
The Easter Seals Project ACTION works with the transportation industry and the disability community to give those with disabilities more access to transportation. Contact them at www.projectaction.org or call 800-659-6428.
You can order groceries and medications online, schedule telehealth visits with your health care providers, and use technology to connect with family and friends.