Driving Miles With Dementia


Driving Miles with Dementia

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Three elderly Woodland, California residents were reported missing after they went to visit a friend in a neighboring town. The driver, James Popplewell, 89, had early stages of dementia.

It wasn’t until the next morning that all three missing adults were located in Gorman, California, more than 100 miles south of Woodland.

In a similar story, an elderly West Virginia couple, French and Elizabeth Napier, 86 and 81 respectively, were found 115 miles away from their home. The two were supposed to meet close-by family for dinner, but never arrived.

A Silver Alert was issued and shortly after, a caller contacted the Kentucky State Police about a car swerving on the highway. The vehicle had license plates that matched the Silver Alert and the couple was identified and taken home.

Lessons learned:
Assess and cite drivers who seem confused or who have even minor traffic violations.

  • Due to the slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, many people with these diagnoses are still driving.
  • If someone has a minor traffic violation, it is important to assess the driver for the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
  • Once a driver is under suspicion of having Alzheimer’s or dementia, a citation is always needed – this establishes a driving record! It also will help establish a need for a driving reevaluation in the future.
  • Do not just give a driver directions – try to establish where they are coming from and going to and assess whether where they are makes sense—they could be lost and not have the capacity to follow even simple directions.

Resource Used:

 Return to the Alzheimer’s Initiative main page.