Driving skills are affected when you have dementia
For many people, driving is an important part of their way of life. Driving is part of being independent as well as a way of getting to places. Some people like the activity of driving, such as a Sunday afternoon drive, or going for a drive to blow off steam.
The quick reaction times, coordination and problem solving that are needed to drive safely deteriorate in all of us as we age, but more so in people with dementia. When people are told they have dementia, they often worry about whether they will be allowed to drive, or whether they should still drive.
People with dementia can continue to drive, after passing an assessment
When people are diagnosed with dementia, they do not automatically lose their licence. However, Australians are legally obligated to tell their state or territory’s driver licensing authority about medical conditions that may affect their ability to drive, including dementia. If you don’t tell the driver licensing authority about your dementia, your doctor may do so. In some states and territories, it is mandatory for your doctor to tell the driver licensing authority. Also, not telling may compromise your insurance.
The licensing authority will ask your doctor to provide an assessment of your ability to drive. They may also request a Fitness to Drive assessment. If your doctor doesn’t think that you are safe to drive, then you may find your licence revoked. If your doctor is not sure if you are safe to drive, they will recommend that you take a Fitness to Drive assessment.
Fitness to Drive assessments are usually conducted by occupational therapists. They usually have an off-road component, where they might check your vision and reaction time, and an on-road practical test. Fitness to Drive assessments are conducted by private occupational therapists and can be expensive, costing between $500 and $800. There may be a wait of several months to get an assessment.
If you pass the Fitness to Drive assessment, you will be given a conditional driver’s licence, usually lasting 12 months. This driver’s licence might have some conditions such as that you can only drive during the day, within your local area, or under a certain speed. You’ll have to repeat the Fitness to Drive assessment every 6-12 months.
A dementia diagnosis may affect your car insurance. You should tell your insurance provider that you have dementia, as the policy may be void if you don’t tell them this information. They may raise your insurance premiums.
Some people with dementia decide to stop driving
Even though they may be allowed to continue to drive, some people with dementia decide to stop driving. They may be worried about causing an accident, have lost confidence in their driving skills, or because they were getting lost while driving. Some people stop driving at the request of their family.
If you are unsure about whether you want to keep driving, you might find this decision aid helpful. It’s a booklet which helps people with dementia work through their decision and weigh the pros and cons of continuing to drive.
It helps to prepare to transition from driving to not driving
It helps to prepare mentally and practically for when you might no longer be able to drive. This is so that you can keep going out, socialising and doing things you enjoy when you stop driving.
Some people stop driving gradually. You might start by limiting your driving to places you go to regularly, only drive during daytime and when traffic is not busy. You might use other transport options to get to some places.
Over time you may reduce the places you drive to (e.g. only to the shops, or to a friend’s home). Getting used to other transport options in this way can make the transition from driving easier.
The Car Free Me program can help you prepare for when you need to stop driving. It is only offered as part of a research for now.
Some people are told to stop driving
Some people with dementia do not make the decision themselves to stop driving. Sometimes it’s the doctor’s judgement that the person should not drive. Please note that doctors can be legally liable if they don’t act.
Sometimes the person fails their driving test. Sometimes it’s family members who stop the person from driving, or take away the car keys, and there might have been a family argument about driving.
Some people with dementia feel angry or sad that they are not allowed to drive. They feel frustrated or upset at their loss of licence, independence, and control. These feelings are understandable. It is very unlikely that you’ll be allowed to drive again. There are however transport options so you can keep going out.
Important actions to take
- Tell the driver’s licensing authority in your state or territory that you have dementia.
- Tell your insurer that you have dementia.
- Book a Fitness to Drive assessment if required.
- Plan how you will get to your usual activities and appointments when you do not drive.
- Use the Dementia and Driving decision aid.