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Dementia and car accidents: A growing concern

Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia are affecting more and more Americans as the general population ages -- which means that there's an increasing likelihood that you could be in a car accident with a driver with dementia as time goes on.

Currently, there are over 5 million people in the country suffering from Alzheimer's disease -- and that number is expected to skyrocket to as many as 16 million by 2050.

While California tries to keep drivers with dementia off the road, it relies largely on reports from family members, physicians and police to alert the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that a driver may be impaired.

In addition, drivers who have been diagnosed with a form of dementia don't necessarily lose their license right away. Those who are still in the early, mild stages of the disease may still retain the ability to drive for a while -- even though there is the possibility that their dementia might suddenly worsen.

Dementia can affect someone's ability to drive in a number of different ways:

  • It affects an individual's cognitive processing abilities, making a driver inattentive to oncoming traffic or unable to respond correctly to sudden changes in lanes, traffic signal changes or temporary construction zones.
  • It gradually affects the victim's muscular control, making it harder to control the wheel of the car or rapidly respond to sudden traffic or other dangers.
  • It affects the individual's consciousness, making a driver unable to comprehend what he or she is seeing. That can lead to incidents like going the wrong way in traffic or turning left on a red light.

Once the disease has passed its mildest form, the victim of dementia needs to be stopped from driving.

If you're seriously injured in an accident with a driver with dementia, it's important to consider who else might be responsible so that you can recover enough compensation to cover your current and future medical expenses.

A legal guardian, for example, could be held responsible for the accident if he or she didn't take any steps to stop the dementia victim from driving -- like securing his or her car keys or disabling the car altogether. The local DMV might also be responsible if it failed to follow-up on a notice of impairment or do mandatory re-testing as required by law.

Source: State of California Department of Motor Vehicles, "Dementia," accessed July 13, 2017

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