This is without, a very contentious and hot topic. I recently heard someone with dementia, who is also over 65, state they were going to get a copy of their car key made to hide somewhere, so that when the keys were taken away because they could no longer drive, they would still have a key to be able to. And, this person was vehement the license being taken away was not going to stop the driving. I also know of many older people who are not only sneaky about their ability to drive, hiding problems from their doctor, and supporting each other to ensure others don’t see their increasing disabilities. As we age we start to lose our ‘edge’ even though the diagnosis of dementia may not have been made our memories do deteriorate and our ability to function also slowly changes. This is simply a fact. Having dementia definitely means you are changing, and your ability to do things like driving has already changed. Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social or working life. In the case of dementia, for someone to have been diagnosed, the symptoms of dementia must be getting in the way of their daily living. It can affect a person’s memory, mood, and behavior and a person with dementia may have trouble remembering, speaking, learning, making judgments, or planning. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, and this affects almost all aspects of brain functioning, including personality, and the ability to perform the most basic activities of daily functioning. If these symptoms are getting in the way of living – they must be to have the diagnosis – then surely people with a confirmed diagnosis of dementia should and must stop driving?
The Mayo Clinic says; “Driving is a powerful symbol of competence and independence, besides being a routine part of adult life. But the focused concentration and quick reaction time needed for safe driving tend to decline with age. Alzheimer’s disease accelerates this process dramatically. If you’re caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, you may need to limit your loved one’s driving — or stop his or her driving completely.”
I can no longer drive, and yes, this has impacted my independence and self-esteem, and of course, my ability to get around. It was definitely one of the most emotionally debilitating aspects of dementia for me, but one I simply had no choice in. But, since relying on others for transport, I have come to realise many people still licensed to drive are less able to drive than I was, and I failed the test! Most people my age are still working, and so most of the time it is either my dear husband who takes me to appointments, or older friends as they are free. Many of my older friends should not be driving, and I feel unsafe in a car with them. My conundrum is, should I say something, or should I just stop accepting their offers? When my father in law was unsafe driving, it took us 18 months of nagging his doctor, and the threat of advising the insurance company if he had an accident, the doctor should be held responsible, for him to take any notice. Dad was driving around roundabouts the wrong way, stopping suddenly on a highway, in very unsafe places, driving on the wrong wide of the road (yes, sometimes with older grandchildren in the car telling us about this), but no amount of suggesting his license be taken away, or he should sit a driving test made any difference. I have many older friends, who have told me they feel unsafe driving, but that they are not prepared to tell their doctor, or surrender their license! My belief is everyone should have to sit written and practical driving tests at the age of 65, and thereafter a practical test every 2 years until 80, then a written and practical, followed by a practical test annually. Currently in Australia, a practical test is not required until aged 85 unless the doctor says so! My solution to driving and aging has an enormous cost impact to the government and community, but the safety of our loved ones and everyone else on the road, I would have thought must be at the forefront. As always, these are just my thoughts, and also as always, I have no answers. And please feel free t jump on your own band wagon about this.