When your passenger has dementia

Unbuckling the seat belt, grabbing the steering wheel, opening the door when traveling. These are not actions that make sense. But for a person with dementia, they seem like reasonable actions to stop a frightening or frustrating situation.

When you are the driver, such actions can be dangerous. Your attention needs to stay focused on the road. Here are some tips to prevent common problems.

  • Plan to leave earlier. A hurried schedule will only make your loved one more agitated.
  • Visit the bathroom before heading out. A “precautionary pee” goes a long way toward removing anxiety.
  • Bring a bag of tricks. A stuffed animal, a photo book, a DVD player with a favorite and calming show. Keep a snack and water handy in the front seat.
  • Have them sit in the rear, on the passenger side. This way they will not be able to easily grab the steering wheel or your arm. Also, you can readily see them via the rearview mirror.
  • Use the “child lock” feature on your car. People with dementia have been known to open the door unexpectedly, and unwisely.
  • Hide the seat belt buckle. A seat belt cover can make the buckle harder to reach. Or twist the buckle so the button is on the inside and less easy to release.
  • Play soothing music. Try calming melodies or sing-along tunes from the past.
  • Choose an easy route and time of day. People with dementia readily become overstimulated. Plus, your mood can greatly influence theirs. Taking the “scenic route” and driving when traffic is less frenzied will result in a more pleasant ride for both of you.
  • Enlist an assistant. If there have been episodes before, bring someone else along who can distract and comfort your passenger so you can focus on the road.