Local group discusses dementia and its impact on driving abilities

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - At the Alzheimer's Resource of Alaska, classes are held twice a month. These presentation-style meetings typically focus on specific areas of life which may change or become difficult for someone diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. This week's topic was driving.

Some of the signs that driving may not be safe for an Alzheimer patient any longer include:
-the driver becoming lost in their own neighborhood or other familiar places
-frequent close calls or fend benders
-difficult making turns or navigating at night
-confusing the gas and brake pedals

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease. Debbie Chulick, who teaches the class, says that watching for one or more of these signs over time will alert caregivers ahead of time, which could make the transition easier.

"There is still a lot of life to be lived, a lot of experiences to be shared and be had," Chulick said. "When it comes to driving, cooking, finances, living alone ... Whatever it might be, we want to try to maintain the dignity of the person."

Chulick says one of the most important things you can do is begin conversations about a major lifestyle change well ahead of time. It's also important to approach these situations in a sensitive manner.

"You want to acknowledge what driving has meant for them before just taking it away," she said. "That's why it's important to start the conversation early. Don't have it all at once."

Chulick suggests speaking with the person affected by Alzheimer's about all of the cars they've had in the past, having them create a list. It can also be helpful to go through their favorite memories from times on the road before approaching the subject of taking away what many elderly people consider their independence.

One of the attendees of this week's class was Valerie Word-Thompson. Her husband, Ken, was diagnosed about one year ago. She's been attending the Alzheimer's Resource of Alaska's ABC classes since then to prepare for situations that may arise in the future.

"We know that someday, it will come," Word-Thompson told KTUU. "The courses are helping to prepare me for the day of, and I just want to have as much knowledge as possible for when the transition does finally hit."

You can learn more about Alzheimer's Resource of Alaska by visiting their web page: https:/alzalaska.org/. The group holds classes regularly and participates in a mini-grant process that pays to cover essential items which will directly improve an Alzheimer's patient's quality of life. Details about that application process are listed on their web page as well.

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