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Common Medical Conditions

Increasing age brings a greater likelihood of having at least one medical condition that could affect your safety while driving. If you have one or more of the common medical conditions listed below, click to learn how your ability to drive might be affected and what you can do to address the situation.

Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather a word used to describe symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. Alzheimer’s is the most common form. If you have dementia, you will eventually become unable to drive due to challenges with reaction time and decision-making. However, a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t necessarily mean that you should stop driving right away. Speak to your doctor early and often about your safe driving ability.

Warning signs that could mean dementia is affecting your driving, and that it might be time to stop:

  • Forgetting how to locate familiar places.
  • Failing to observe traffic signs and signals.
  • Becoming angry or confused while driving.
  • Often hitting curbs while driving.
  • Confusing the brake and gas pedals.
  • Forgetting your destination during a trip.

If you have experienced any of these warning signs, consult your doctor. You might be referred to an occupational therapy driver rehabilitation specialist for an evaluation to help determine your fitness to drive safely.

Early planning is the key to staying safe and mobile.

If you have been diagnosed with early-stage dementia, you likely can continue to drive. However, it’s very important that you discuss driving with your doctor and your family to help determine when you need to stop and how you will get around without getting behind the wheel.

Get a free brochure on Alzheimers »

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Arthritis is a medical condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness of the body. There are different types of arthritis, but most result in pain and swelling of the joints – places where two bones connect (e.g., wrist, elbow or knee).

Arthritis can limit ability to move shoulders, hands and neck – movements necessary to be able to grasp and turn the steering wheel while driving, apply the brake and gas pedals, buckle your seat belt and turn to check blind spots when merging into traffic or changing lanes. Arthritis in your knees or hips can make it difficult to get in and out of your car, as well.

You can drive safely with arthritis as long as you work with your doctor to manage your condition with safe driving in mind. Ask about treatments that can help with pain, swelling and soreness without making you sleepy, which can make it difficult to drive safely. Your doctor may suggest you see an occupational therapy driver rehabilitation specialist to determine if, and how, arthritis is affecting your ability to drive safely and comfortably.

Quick tips

  • Consider using larger, angled rear and side view mirrors to help minimize blind spots and reduce physical demands on head and neck flexibility.
  • Some steering wheel covers may reduce demands on hand and wrist strength needed to grip and handle the wheel.
  • A variety of low-cost key grips or holders provide multiple grasping positions to help people with arthritis easily turn door and ignition keys.

Get a free brochure on arthritis >>

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Diabetes is a disease in which your body cannot properly maintain blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels. If not properly treated, diabetes may cause nerve damage in your hands, legs and feet. In severe cases, diabetes can lead to blindness, heart disease, stroke or even amputation of a limb.

Other symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes can put you at risk behind the wheel, including:

  • Becoming sleepy or dizzy.
  • Developing blurred vision.
  • Losing consciousness.
  • Having a seizure.

If you have diabetes and have experienced one or more of these symptoms, work closely with your doctor to find a proper treatment plan that will help maintain your ability to drive.

Quick tips

  • Do not drive if your blood glucose level becomes too low (hypoglycemia). Wait until the level has returned to the target range determined by your doctor.
  • Keep your blood glucose testing kit and plenty of snacks (including a quick-acting source of sugar like juice or hard candy) close by in case you feel any signs of a low blood glucose level. You will need to pull over and check your blood glucose level.
  • High blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia) also may affect driving in extreme cases. Talk to your doctor if you have a history of very high glucose levels to determine when such levels could affect your ability to be a safe driver.

Get a free brochure on diabetes »

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

A stroke occurs when blood flow to your brain stops, at which point your brain cells begin to die. Having a stroke can cause you not to be able to speak, see, think clearly or control your body. Stroke also may cause temporary or permanent weakness or paralysis on one side of the body.

Trying to drive after a stroke can be dangerous, depending on how much damage was done and your overall condition after your initial recovery. If you get behind the wheel after you’ve had a stroke, you might:

  • Experience trouble turning the steering wheel or applying the brake.
  • Become easily frustrated or confused while driving.
  • Drift across lane markings into other lanes.
  • Become overwhelmed by the traffic around you.

Fortunately, most stroke survivors can return to independent, safe driving. However, it’s difficult to determine when you will be able to return to driving until the full extent of your stroke is known. After you have been initially treated, talk to your doctor about rehabilitation, which may help you get back on the road safely.

Warning signs and symptoms of stroke typically come on suddenly and include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Confusion and trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Trouble walking, dizziness and loss of balance or coordination.
  • Severe headache with no known cause.

Get a free brochure on strokes »

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Sleep apnea is a common medical condition that causes breathing to stop or to become very shallow during sleep. When your sleep is interrupted by the condition, you can become drowsy during the day, making it dangerous to drive.

If you have sleep apnea, you are at higher risk for car crashes. However, with correct treatment, you likely can drive safely. Lifestyle changes, dental mouthpieces, medical breathing devices and special surgeries are commonly used to treat sleep apnea. Medications are not typically used to treat this medical condition. It is critical that you fully use the treatment provided by your doctor, because treatment offers the best hope of being able to continue safe, independent driving.

Quick tips

  • Don’t drive if you are not being treated. Talk with your doctor to determine how to treat your sleep apnea without compromising your ability to drive safely.
  • When driving, you want to be fully alert. Consider having someone with you in the car to make sure you don’t fall asleep. Do this until you are sure that your sleep apnea treatment is successful.
  • If you are very tired or find yourself falling asleep while at work or at home, you should not drive, because it is unsafe for you and others on the road. You don’t have to fall asleep to have a crash – you just have to become inattentive or not sharp.

Get a free brochure on sleep apnea »

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that affects the nervous system and muscle movement. It causes your hands, arms and legs to shake, even when you feel relaxed. You may also have poor balance and coordination, as well as a slowed ability to move. Driving can be unsafe, because you may not be able to react quickly to a road hazard, turn the steering wheel or use gas or brake pedals correctly. There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease.

If you are in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, you can still drive safely if you follow your doctor’s instructions to control symptoms. Common treatment options include medication, surgical therapy, general lifestyle changes like getting resting and exercise, physical therapy, support groups and occupational therapy.

Quick tips

  • Talk to your doctor about treatment options that could help control your symptoms. Ask about the effect medications may have on your ability to drive safely.
  • Maintain muscle strength by staying active and getting plenty of exercise. Try these physical fitness techniques to help keep you safely behind the wheel.
  • Your doctor also can refer you to an occupational therapy driver rehabilitation specialist, who can give you on- and off-road tests to see if, and how, Parkinson’s is affecting your driving. If your condition allows you to drive safely, you might receive special training to improve skills.

Get a free brochure on Parkinson’s disease »

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration