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Driving, Dementia, and You

by Gini Cunningham

posted in Health and Fitness

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As a member of the Nevada TASK Force on Alzheimer's and other Dementias I have organized a Town Hall meeting on the subject of driving and dementia to obtain feedback and insight from local residents. This information will be combined with feedback from other Town Hall meetings held throughout our state to help us prepare for the next legislative session. With a panel that includes law enforcement, city officials, caregivers, and health care providers we will begin with basic questions such as "Whose responsibility is it to revoke driving privileges?" to "With a driver's license gone, what transportation services can be offered?" After planned questions, local residents will be able to speak and ask questions, working to derive a good picture of needs and wishes for our community.
In organizing this, along with several other Alzheimer's awareness campaigns I have rallied, I am gaining a better idea of what people know and think about Alzheimer's as well as what they consider to be primary issues for our town. To begin with just the words "Alzheimer's" and/or "dementia" set people on edge. These terms are frightening, misunderstood, and would stop conversation if I did not push on with questions and gentle responses. Above all I remind folks that while we may not want to think about or talk about dementias, we have to if we hope to find solutions for care and increasing life's value until we find a cure. This usually assuages some angst as people open up with their ideas and worries.
I have also learned to broaden my approach. After all, it is not just those with Alzheimer's or dementia who may have a licensed taken away but someone who has had a stroke or other disabling condition that does not them to drive safely may not be able to drive safely as well. Without friends and family, the non-driver may become a shut-in, all alone without the former freedom of wheels. Our challenge then becomes how to provide adequate service for everyone in need so that they can get to the store, the senior center, the doctor, or church. How can we help someone maintain independence without true independence?
I have also found that even with the many awareness and education programs offered here, many people are still confused about Alzheimer's and other dementias. For example, law enforcement officers to do not receive training about how to approach and assist someone with dementia; some seniors still think dementia is contagious; some people would rather not know anything about these horrendous diseases believing that lack of knowledge is a savior; some children of those with Alzheimer's or other dementias think things are fairly fine and that it will not get worse. You can understand that there is great need for education, not just in my community, but throughout the country as these misconceptions are very common.
Getting the elephant in the room out onto the table for discussion and examination is critical. We cannot solve problems without background knowledge and education. Perhaps it is time for your community to dig deeper into this issue. And while driving and dementia began as our focus, I realize that this topic will broaden as we move forward, working to ensure that every citizen in need is taken care of with dignity and love. I know that through hard work and determination big changes are coming here.
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