Dementia and driving

This topic is a very contentious one, as there are two groups specifically who fear and then feel the loss of their driver’s license. The elderly and people diagnosed with dementia will eventually be challenged about their capacity to drive. It is a topic I have ranted about a few times, but one people like doctors are reticent to get too involved in as they understand the isolation caused by not being able to drive is crushing.

Kay Bransford wrote on her Dealing With Dementia blog yesterday, When are you too old to drive?, and alerted me to this story in The Washington Post  Should older drivers quit? Families key in wrenching decision, need docs, better tests to help. She wrote; “The story includes a few simple tests the American Medical Association recommends that doctors administer when advising older drivers. Among them:

—Walk 10 feet down the hallway, turn around and come back. Taking longer than 9 seconds is linked to driving problems.

—On a page with the letters A to L and the numbers 1 to 13 randomly arranged, see how quickly and accurately you draw a line from 1 to A, then to 2, then to B and so on. This so-called trail-making test measures memory, spatial processing and other brain skills, and doing poorly has been linked to at-fault crashes.

—Check if people can turn their necks far enough to change lanes, and have the strength to slam on brakes.”

Thanks Kay. It seems to me, if the general definition of dementia is; “the gradual deterioration of functioning, such as thinking, concentration, memory, and judgment, which affects a person’s ability to perform normal daily activities”, then how can people diagnosed with dementia be safe to continue to drive? If some days we forget how to make a cup of tea, or lose the car or the keys, then surely driving a 1-2 ton vehicle that can go up to 200 kms per hour is dangerous!!

A solution might be for everyone to sit the written and practical driving test, each time they have to renew their license with a photo. The rules have certainly changed since I was 16!! Then over the age of 65, it should to be more often, which would then remove the pressure on families and the medical community to have to ‘take away’ someone’s independence by removing their driver’s license.

Kay asked yesterday, when did her readers realise the person with dementia should not be driving. For me, I knew my driving was unsafe when I turned into the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic, I was having trouble finding the car and was getting lost a lot. Was it a great day when I failed my test? Absolutely not, I cried for weeks, and it took ages to recover emotionally, and to get used to the fact I am even more isolated due to dementia than before as the friends I have my own age all work or live in the country and so don’t have time to drop in. And most of the older friends I have, I don’t feel safe to be in a car with them…

9 thoughts on “Dementia and driving

  1. i’m not sure of what the “rules” are now. But mum was diagnosed, and within 3 months of the diagnosis, she got a letter from the licencing people telling her she was required to sit a driving test. So I presume that one of her doctors had to notify them that she had the diagnosis. She was really early on in terms of alzheimers, very emotionally rattled by the alzheimer’s diagnosis, so she didn’t perform too well, and now is only licenced to drive within 5km of her home. She is only 58 years old, and still relatively early in alzheimers progression. Probably not a bad idea though, because she’s getting used to not driving mostly, but can still get to the shops or doctor or post office for now. But is used to not driving any distances. I presume she’ll have to be re-tested each year now.


  2. it is a terrible thing loss of independence, we are working through this same issue with my mother who I can’t let her drive me anywhere and most of her friends have stopped driving with her. She has conceded not to drive at night – which is great but it is a hard issue to tackle


  3. The interesting part about dementia is that it is so up and down, and quite confusing to carers and professionals. As for driving tests, you may pass it today and fail it tomorrow, then pass it the day after. I had been quite happy for my wife to drive 150kms with me,and not miss a beat, yet her cooking skills had completely disappeared. The driving skill remained, yet which road to take was too much and so she gave up. There is no easy answer is there?


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