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Driving

Dealing with practical issues

"I have given up driving. I realised that it was necessary even though it was a very difficult decision. My partner tells me that I am now a terrible back-seat driver!" (Nigel)

"My husband only goes out in the car when I can accompany him. He doesn’t actually have a problem driving yet but tends to forget the way. He worries about losing the ability to drive though as it would be a dreadful loss for him." (Sue)

The number of people over 60 years of age with a driving licence is steadily increasing. As dementia is more common in the over 60 age group, this means that a percentage of these people are likely to have dementia. In the early stages of dementia many people do still drive. Gradually, they may come to realise that have difficulty with concentration, attention and orientation. However, some may not realise when such problems start to occur or may be reluctant to admit that they are experiencing problems driving. This can be problematic and worrying for friends and relatives who are concerned about their safety and the safety of others. It is understandable that a person who has been driving for some time (possibly decades) finds it difficult to give up. Driving and owning a car is not just about having a means of transport. For many people, it is also a symbol of independence and status.

Nevertheless, it is illegal for anyone to drive who has a health condition which makes driving unsafe. A diagnosis of dementia is not in itself a sufficient reason to prevent someone from driving but as the disease progresses, it will eventually mean that the person has to stop driving. The stage at which this happens will differ from one person to the next. As dementia tends to progress gradually, it can be difficult to determine the exact point at which driving becomes unsafe. Moreover, different kinds of dementia have different implications for safe driving.

Signs of a problem with driving include the following:

  • Lack of concentration on the road and to surroundings
  • Failure to observe, understand and obey traffic signs and road rules
  • Inability to recognise familiar places
  • Frequently getting lost
  • Increase in the number of minor accidents (e.g. bumps, mounting the kerb etc.
  • Poor decision-making in traffic
  • “Weaving about” in the lane
  • Slow reaction times (especially in emergencies)
  • A change in the way the person drives compared to previous driving behaviour

Whilst everyone may have a moment’s lack of attention, make the occasional bad decision in a particular situation and fail to respect a traffic sign etc., with dementia it is likely that this will start to become a regular feature of driving. It is therefore important that people with dementia pay particular attention to their driving and are honest with themselves about their ability. Carers, friends and relatives should also keep an eye on the driving skills of the person with dementia and try to intervene if necessary, even at the risk of becoming unpopular.

For the person with dementia

  • Check with your doctor whether you are still able to drive.
  • Inform your insurance company immediately.
  • Check with your doctor whether any medication you are taking is likely to affect your driving ability.
  • Don’t take it the wrong way if someone worries about your ability to drive. They may be right to worry and it is a sign that they care about your wellbeing.
  • However hard it may be to give up driving, try to bear in mind the potential risks to other people and that it is illegal to drive if you are unfit to do so.
  • It is normal to grieve the loss of the ability to drive, particularly if driving was linked to your working life and hence also part of your self-image. However, it is important not to let your grief prevent you from considering alternative transport arrangements.
  • Check if you are entitled to a concession card if you give up driving.1
  • Talk about how you feel about giving up or having given up driving to someone you trust. It may help you to come to terms with the changes in your life.
  • If you have a diagnosis of dementia, you must stop driving as soon as you or other people feel that you are a potential danger to yourself and/or to other road users.

For the carer

  • Talk to the person with dementia about driving.
  • If necessary, remind them of the risks not only to themselves but also to other people.
  • Encourage the person with dementia to check with a doctor whether it is OK to carry on driving.
  • Accompany the person with dementia in the car whenever you can.
  • If you drive too, suggest sharing driving more (e.g. in order to get more practice for later when you may need to do all the driving).
  • If not, find another means of transport (e.g. public transport, lifts from friends) so as to be able to keep up your usual activities and get the shopping in etc.
  • Acknowledge that it must be difficult to give up driving.
  • Try to use subtle means to reduce the temptation to drive e.g. don’t leave the car keys lying around, keep the car out of sight if possible etc.

 

 
 

Last Updated: Friday 11 September 2009

 

 
 

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