People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) may find that their condition affects their ability to drive safely. Impaired functions might include perception, memory, judgement, vision, speed of movement and muscle control. Drowsiness is also often a problem.
Many PD medications can also affect driving ability. They may have side effects like sleepiness, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, sedation and memory problems.
However, many people continue to drive, maintaining both safety and independence. It all depends on your specific symptoms, how far your condition has progressed, and the effects of your meds.
It can be very difficult to acknowledge that you need to give up this element of your lifestyle. You may have access to formal tests – offered by your local vehicle-licensing authority, at a hospital, or administered by a doctor – to determine whether you’re fit to drive. Otherwise, your doctor, caregivers and loved ones can help you to assess when you become a danger to yourself and others. Listen to what they tell you, and recognise when the time has come to turn in your car keys.
If you do feel confident to drive, here are some additional safety suggestions to bear in mind:
– Give yourself lots of time to get there – add extra time to any trip you plan.
– Plan your route carefully in advance.
– Drive slowly, and keep a good distance between yourself and the car ahead. No sudden turns.
– Make sure you have good visibility through windows and in rear-view and side mirrors.
– Concentrate, focus, and keep your eyes on the road and on your rear-view mirrors. Don’t be distracted by the sound system or a phone.
– Make use of automatic gears and power steering.
– Park your car so that you have enough space to open your door wide, making exiting the car easier.
– Install an adapted steering wheel.
– Drive with a “co-pilot”.
– Avoid driving after dark or during rush hour.
– Plan your trips for when your meds are working optimally.
If the time has come to stop driving yourself, it doesn’t mean that you can’t move around independently. Investigate the possibilities:
– You may be able to use public transportation like buses, subways or trains – often at a reduced fee for people with disabilities.
– Arrange lifts with family or friends.
– Some organisations or local governments provide shuttle services for people with disabilities.
– Community and religious bodies sometimes provide volunteers to give lifts to those in need.
– You might be able to afford to use metered taxis.
Breslow, D., ‘Parkinson’s Onboard: Traveling with PD’, Northwestern University, National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence; Brandabur, M.M., ‘Nutrition and Parkinson’s Disease’, The Parkinson’s Institute; Parkinson’s Disease Foundation: www.pdf.org; National Parkinson Foundation: www.parkinson.org