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Driving & Dementia

Article courtesy of www.irishhealth.com/clin/alzheim/

Dementia impacts on both mobility and safety. It is important to consider both of these factors when faced with the issue of continued driving. When people have been driving for many years, they may not want to stop. Many people with dementia are able to drive safely for some time after diagnosis. As dementia progresses, the ability to drive safely will eventually be lost and driving must stop by law.

For experienced drivers, driving may seem to be a largely automatic activity. In fact, driving is a complicated task that requires a split-second combination of complex thought processes and manual skills.

To drive, people need to be able to make sense of, and respond to, everything they see, to 'read the road', to follow road signs, to anticipate and react quickly to the actions of other road users, to take appropriate action to avoid accidents, and to remember where they are going.

As dementia progresses, there are serious effects on memory, perception and the ability to perform even simple tasks. It is not surprising, therefore, that people with dementia eventually lose the ability to drive. The decision to give up driving should, if possible, be made by the person with dementia. If the person needs to be persuaded to give up or actually prevented from driving, this will need to be done as tactfully as possible.

When to Stop Driving

A diagnosis of dementia is not in itself a sufficient reason to prevent someone from driving. What matters, from both a legal and a practical point of view, is whether or not an individual is still able to drive safely.

Many people with dementia retain learned skills and are able to drive safely for some time after diagnosis. Ultimately, however, their condition will deteriorate and they will have to stop driving. The stage at which this happens will be different for each person with dementia. Regular reviews of a person's continuing ability to drive are needed.

The evidence as to whether people with dementia who drive add to the overall risk on the roads is controversial, and most of the data suggests there is no major added hazard as, more often than not, people with dementia (in conjunction with their families) often withdraw from driving. However, to facilitate this process (as well as to consider other ways that mobility needs might be met after driving cessation), it is preferable to raise this issue as early as possible with the GP or specialist. Geriatricians and psychiatrists of old age are increasingly incorporating assessments for driving ability into their specialist assessment.

Reducing the Risks

Most people with dementia who continue to drive do so responsibly and take steps to minimise their risk. Short drives on familiar roads at quiet times of the day generally present fewer problems than long, unfamiliar or very busy journeys. People on certain types of drug treatment, such as night sedation or tablets for anxiety or depression or other psychiatric disorders may find that their driving ability is affected. It is worth seeking medical advice to see if anything can be done about this.

For more information or support call the Alzheimer National Helpline 1800 341 341
Website: www.alzheimer.ie