Dementia and driving – how to manage

Imagine if the ability to get behind the wheel was taken away from you?

Portrait of senior man driving car

Think back to the day when you were first issued your driving licence. Remember the sense of independence and adventure you felt? Over the years, driving has likely become a necessity or convenience rather than a means to explore, but imagine if the ability to get behind the wheel was taken away from you?

While some of us may have the luxury of deciding when to hang up the car keys, for some the decision is made for them. Cognitive diseases, such as dementia, often mean that your family, friends or medical practioner may start the process that ultimately takes you off the road.

Specific aspects of dementia that may lead to this suggestion include:

  • memory loss – which can increase your likelihood of getting lost or forgetting where you parked the car
  • visuospatial impairment – which can make it difficult for you to judge distance for other from other vehicles, park your car or stay in lanes
  • impaired judgement – which can make turning, entering traffic from a junction and changing lanes challenging, and
  • decreased insight – which can mean you are not aware that your driving is in fact dangerous.

Of course, a dementia diagnosis does not mean that you have to give up driving immediately – the onset of the disease can be gradual and removing a person’s independence or routine may speed up the progress of the disease. If you notice that you, or someone close to you, is having difficulty while driving, it may be time to consider contacting the licensing department in your state or territory to check if a test is necessary. It is actually a legal requirement to advise your licensing authority of a dementia diagnosis.

If it’s apparent that a person with dementia, or suspected dementia, is a danger to themselves or other road users, then you need to act quickly and we don't mean hiding the car keys. You should make an appointment to speak to the person’s GP or contact the local licensing authority about your concerns – it can then issue a request to review their licence.

When a diagnosis of dementia is made, it’s better to have the conversation about driving sooner rather than later. The more a person can understand what is happening to them and get used to alternatives, the better. Before you start the conversation, it’s really important to acknowledge just how much driving means to that person and the potential repercussions of them losing that freedom. It could lead to social isolation, the end of a job or volunteering, or a hobby or pastime that keeps them active and engaged.

It’s also important to remain calm and not be forceful – you’re not telling them what to do. Frequent discussions about certain aspects may be more effective than one long conversation; ensure that you express that it happens to everyone at some point. Also, be armed with details of alternative transport and a plan of how and when the switch can be made.

If you need more information or support to help you tackle the issue of dementia and driving, there are many resources available at Alzheimer’s Australia.

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    COMMENTS

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    3rd Oct 2016
    10:28am
    Your driver's licence SHOULD be taken from you if you are suffering from a condition which prevents you from knowing where you are, where you have been, where you are going, or what a steering wheel is used for. You have become a danger to yourself, your passengers, and everyone and everything on and adjacent to the carriageway.
    Not Senile Yet!
    3rd Oct 2016
    10:50am
    You are Right Fast Eddie.....it is simply a question of Common Sense.
    But then again.....when is Common Sense applied anymore???
    How many times do you fine someone for driving unlicenced or under the influence of whatever?
    No point in taking their licence if you don't confiscate their car as well!
    This article is rather Dumb....doctors don't let people with dementia drive...nor do family members!
    Who the hell would?
    Stupid Article by Dumb reporter.....suggesting a discussion that the person afflicted simply cannot and will not remember!
    What kind of idiot suggests such a thing???
    Alteimers and Dementi suffers simply forget what you said within an hour or two....definitely by the next day......and that is why they Won"t Drive on their own anyway!
    By the way.....even if they wrote a note so they could remember.....they would forget where they put it...or that they wrote it!
    As I said ....Dumb article by Dumb Reporter....that is Not Appropriate whatsoever!
    Blossom
    3rd Oct 2016
    12:01pm
    If a person lives alone their family and their family visits them regularly they may not see their driving is impaired.
    particolor
    3rd Oct 2016
    1:52pm
    O dear !! I live alone and have no family !! But its OK, I forgot where I parked the car anyhow ?? :-(
    Rosret
    4th Oct 2016
    8:15am
    You can check by doing a quick circumnavigation of their car. First thing I noticed when visiting my Mum in her later years of driving was the little bumps and scratches on the car. Then when I went to her local shopping centre I noticed nearly all the cars had "parking" bumps. In the end I decided it really must be city drivers - no room to park!
    Rae
    4th Oct 2016
    7:05pm
    There is an app for that particolor. My daughter in law uses it in huge city car parks. It finds the car for you using a GPS.

    I go to one of the most dangerous car parks in the world Rosret and am constantly amazed that we don't hit each other more often.
    This car park outside of Coles has been designed by the car repair industry for sure.

    Losing the car is terribly hard as it represents independence. My dad hated it but we brought him around to giving up his licence himself.
    It helped to get one of those replacement identification cards that looked and felt like the licence.

    My sister in law had to force her Dad to give his up at 95 and he never forgave her which was really sad.
    MICK
    3rd Oct 2016
    3:07pm
    A car is as lethal a weapon as a gun. If you are mentally incapacitated then your license should be cancelled. A decent person and/or his family would not allow a dementia sufferer to drive, but then the right of the individual to remain mobile carries more importance than the right of somebody not to be killed by such a person.
    I have been struggling with whether or not I report the old guy next door for the past year. I see him standing in the driveway for 15 minutes with the hose in his hand trying to make a decision about whether or not to turn the hose on. The man is the walking dead!
    My conscience is killing me..........but how will I feel if the guy kills another person. Help!!!!
    Anonymous
    3rd Oct 2016
    8:19pm
    MICK, the guy needs to be assessed by a competent community health service. Your council office can provide you with information and a phone number. You would be doing the poor bugger a favour by alerting the appropriate authorities. Good luck.
    Rosret
    4th Oct 2016
    8:31am
    Mick if he is still driving then you do need to go to your local police station. They will handle it.
    McGroger
    3rd Oct 2016
    4:24pm
    Dementia is the cruellest disease imaginable. You lose them twice: First, when it has progressed to the point where your young son might say, “Dad, the light’s gone out of Nanna’s eyes.”

    You’ve lost them, but you’re too busy, too exhausted caring for them to find time to cry. Some time later - it might be ten years later - you lose them again. Then you get to grieve.

    It’s a good article - if it prompts us into finding out more about the disease.

    Dementia - usually Alzheimers - takes years. Sometimes twenty years or more from the first noticeable symptoms. You don’t suddenly go from rocket scientist to nappy-wearing vegetable.

    People progress at different rates. It can be extraordinarily difficult to decide when and how to gradually remove responsibilities from the sufferer. If it helps, imagine bringing up your child from newborn to mature adult. Then reverse the tape - the changes take just as long - but they’re a lot bloody sadder. Then try to imagine how the patient feels.

    Mick: Talk to him. Form an opinion, but be aware that they can be cunning or “rise to the occasion”. Find out if he has close friends or family. Contact them and say you are concerned about him. If he is suffering, he needs help.
    Rosret
    4th Oct 2016
    8:27am
    McGroger - my heart goes out to you and your family. It is a cruel way to age. We strive so hard in the quest for knowledge. Every exam, every skill, every qualification gained is our own personal wealth. Family who they no longer know, and the afflicted is dead before their heart stops beating.
    I was(am) so proud of my Aunt and her Mathematical ability. Last visit she got out her very old notebook of Senior Maths formulas - she smiled and said, "What are all these. I must have written them but I have no idea." With that I felt the need to remember her as she was and to keep the memory of her life safe within me for as long as my brain still ticks.
    Rosret
    4th Oct 2016
    8:10am
    Dementia is an interesting ailment. My Aunt has it (and doesn't drive) however she can do the crossword each morning without any problem. So road rules may not be a problem at all. However forgetting where the car is parked is not going to harm anyone. I am sure it would have to be one of the medical prohibitors of driving and yet the oldies beat the P plates when it comes to safety every time. Can we test P platers IQ before handing out a licence?
    PIXAPD
    6th Oct 2016
    5:45pm
    SURE DOES.... dementia = NO driving.
    PIXAPD
    6th Oct 2016
    5:50pm
    Also in Court for motoring offence.... 'Your honour I have dementia and can't remember speeding or killing that child<<<<< is that an excuse???'


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