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.