Driving, dementia and the elderly: A risky business

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.

7 thoughts on “Driving, dementia and the elderly: A risky business

    • Maybe you need to get your eye sight checked John, and perhaps your driving too??!! As far as I know the fonts are ok to read, but hey, happy to hear otherwise and make some changes too.


  1. I have been told that you can actually write a letter to the motor vehicles department if you feel someone is unsafe to drive, and they will then test them. I have considered doing it in the past with a couple of aged friends (without dementia) that should not be driving, both of whom i wouldn’t get in the car with. It isn’t nice to take someone’s freedom away, but it would be worse to be the cause of a fatal accident because of your inability to react the way one should when an accident occurs.


    • Thank you for this sage advice Kristy… I now know I have a number of letters to write in my my first few days home in two weeks time. As you say, my inbability to speak up, may well cause a fatal accident, and NO NO NO, I could not live with myself if this happened.


  2. it is a hot topic, one which my family are grappling with, my Mother is a terrible driver and gets really offended when we say anything. Last week she drove my sisters car over the SA water tap and hooked the car on it. I had to get a jack and jack the car off the tap in order for it to move, my father is worried about her as well. No matter what we suggest she always has an answer but it is coming time for her to give up the keys and this will be hard for her as she is the main driver, my father doesn’t like to drive as he falls asleep, but he is aware of this. No solution and sadly for the GP’s it is their responsibility and should be taken in my opinion more seriously.


  3. Hello Kate read this one with bonded belief. I said only yesterday to Oscar. When we go for a brain scan for “unsusualy” disfunctional occurrances “WHY” do we? Hmm..?. Due to our brains ceasing to function as they did. I gave up my license immediatley after my diagnosis. As as I knew I was a risk and could cause others to be.
    with my losing focus and having little mental lapses etc etc…. Ehhh thats a sure sign isnt it that the brain isnt doing its job? Any Alzheimers/Dementia issues are just that type of happenings.. so I get angry and saystrongly amimdst my support groups “wherever” I go advising these people “many” that are still driving. At a stage in their Dementia that their symptons are overwhelming them. Demnetia that they cant share where they live , where they have been yesterday, or complete a sentence. I strongly speak out to them about what they are doing illegally and at no care of those they may cause serious injury (apart from NO insurance) if they are driving without that driving test for pople with Dementia. so with you on this one girl x Carol


  4. Oh yeah, so true, so true!!!!
    And well done for making an informed choice (not taken lightly either of course)
    Personal responsibility SHOULD takes precedence, but the desire for independence is usually overpowering sense. Understandably too.
    With a pilot license one has to have a bi-annual flight review/test, and medical examinations, which escalate after the age of 40. Includes eyesight, hearing, urine checks for diabetes, ECG. And if you have not flown in the previous 3 months, at least x3 take-offs, circuits and landings before taking any passengers up.
    Sooooo- a drivers license- get it at 16, renew by paying money, a new photo, and voila! You are ok to drive til the year dot!!
    Not a single written test, or practical skills test, or a defensive driving course is required at any time in your whole life…….

    But let’s just put in speed cameras, dumb the entire population down (or are they already there?) by severely limiting speed limits, slow traffic to mind numbingly frustrating levels – and what? Create smooth flowing traffic, reduce accidents, increase revenue?

    About to renew my license today.Entirely pissed off that all I have to do is get a photo and pay money.
    Solution- compulsory defensive driving one day course, written and practical skill test EVERY 10 years upon license renewal.
    Difficult to fund ? Not really. What money pot is filled by my $387? The photo and administration costs are $17, so the $370 remaining is used how?

    Another peeve- a 30 yr old male I know is driving about in two different vehicles, his license suspended, this is known to the police, and nothing is being done about it. Why?
    Bet most of us also know someone doing the same…

    That a big enough rant?


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