Driving lesson

Effects on motor skills and recommendations

Parkinson’s disease is a central nervous system disorder that causes certain cells in your brain to decline over time. It can affect your movements, reaction times, memory, and visual-spatial perception. In some cases, Parkinson’s disease can also cause dementia.

All of these challenges can interfere with a person’s ability to drive.

Yet it can take months or years after Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed to interfere with activities of daily living, such as driving. It is important to know when driving will become a problem and what you can do once it is no longer safe to drive.

Keep reading to find out how Parkinson’s disease can affect your driving, safety tips for driving with Parkinson’s disease, and how to figure out when you should stop driving.

There is no single answer for how long you can drive with Parkinson’s disease or how your condition affects your current driving. Many people can drive long after being diagnosed, while others will need to stop driving sooner.

That depends on:

  • the person
  • disease progression
  • how severe are the symptoms

Some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that interfere with safe driving are:

  • uncontrollable shaking or shaking in the hands and arms
  • lack of coordination
  • decrease in reaction times
  • attention deficits
  • visual impairment
  • muscle rigidity
  • daytime sleepiness, often due to nighttime sleep problems
  • drowsiness, dizziness, or blurred vision resulting from medications for Parkinson’s disease

Since your symptoms may be more severe one day and less severe the next, driving may be riskier than it appears.

Even the early stages of Parkinson’s disease can affect a person’s driving. That said, people without cognitive impairments (such as vision changes or visuospatial processing issues) might be able to drive for many years.

A Report on studies 2018 found that in 50 studies, people with Parkinson’s disease were 6 times more likely to fail a road driving test than people without the disease. People with Parkinson’s disease were also more than 2 1/2 times more likely to crash in a sham test.

Here are some tips for staying safe while driving:

  • Eliminate distractions such as your phone, radio, and eating or drinking.
  • Do not drive when you are tired or your medication is running out.
  • If you have reduced vision in low light situations, drive during the day.
  • Stick to familiar routes.
  • Try to drive at times when there is less traffic.
  • Adopt good posture and have a lumbar support pillow.
  • Avoid driving in difficult situations (for example, in snow, ice or heavy rain)
  • Consider taking a defensive driving course; it could also get you an insurance discount.
  • Stay active and regularly strengthen the muscles you need to drive safely.
  • Stop driving as soon as you feel you may not be driving safely.

Some people whose condition is in its early stages and whose symptoms are well managed can drive for a long time. Those with moderate or severe symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, on the other hand, may need to stop driving altogether.

At any stage, Parkinson’s disease can have a significant effect on your driving, and this effect may increase over time.

a smaller one study 2017for example, found that within 2 years, people with Parkinson’s disease had greater cognitive decline and increased errors in driving tests compared to the control group.

There are no uniform legal guidelines that specify when a person with Parkinson’s disease should stop driving, although it is generally recommended that people with the disease be evaluated periodically.

Your doctor may suggest you see one of two types of specialists for an evaluation or to help you cope with the changes due to Parkinson’s disease.

This may be a driver rehabilitation specialist or an occupational therapist with special training in driving skill assessment and correction. Either can also tell you when it’s time to stop driving.

Red flags to be aware of

If you haven’t had the chance to have your driving assessed by an expert yet, here are some red flags that experts say they are aware of:

  • family affair
  • accidents
  • knocks on the car
  • to get lost
  • attention or memory problems
  • significant periods of time when you seem “off”

If you have to stop driving, there are other ways to maintain your independence and quality of life.

You can:

  • Reach out to family and friends for rides.
  • Walk or bike.
  • Use public transport.
  • Use ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, or taxis.
  • Order groceries, prescriptions, and home supplies through services like Amazon, Instacart, Shipt, DoorDash, or others.
  • Have your takeout and dry cleaning delivered to you.
  • Contact local service organizations or church groups that will take you to medical appointments or bring you meals and groceries.
  • Contact ElderCare Specialists at the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center at 866-983-3222, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Or email [email protected]
  • Find your local aging agency to connect to local services (the Eldercare Locator site has a search tool).
  • Call your local government offices, which may offer special rides and services for a reduced fee or donation.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that can affect your vision, motor function, memory and spatial awareness. All of these effects can impair your ability to drive.

There is no clear rule as to when a person with Parkinson’s disease should stop driving. But the condition can have a big effect on your ability to drive safely, regardless of the stage of your condition. Talk with your healthcare team about if and when you should be evaluated.

If you have to stop driving, there are many things you can do to maintain your independence, including finding other ways to get around, shopping, and socializing. Local aging agencies and other organizations exist to help connect you with services.