Alzheimer's Disease

Driving and Dementia

There is now emerging evidence that people with Alzheimer’s disease have an impaired ability to drive – particularly where complex judgements have to be made which take into account a number of stimuli, for example, at road junctions. Obviously, by the time someone has deteriorated to the extent that they get lost when driving, their ability to handle a car is severely compromised. However, there is evidence to suggest that people with early Alzheimer’s disease actually have less claims and cause fewer accidents than young men, and so any issue about driving in dementia has to be discussed in terms of risk to the individual rather than a public safety campaign. It is never going to be easy for someone with developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease who has been driving for, say, 40 years, to be told that they are no longer capable of driving a car. People invariably suggest that they are very safe drive and only take the car an short journeys, but that is immaterial. The sufferer (and their spouse) is under an obligation to inform the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVIA) that a condition (dementia and/ar Alzheimer’s disease) has been diagnosed which may affect their ability to drive. If a carer is very concerned about someone with dementia driving, they should mention it to their, doctor in confidence.

The DVIA has a standard form, which they send to the doctor involved. The doctor, with the permission of the patient, provides information to the DVIA who then make a judgement an that person’s ability to drive. Some people appeal against a decision (in practice, always a decision to revoke a licence) and they doa have the ability to have a re-test. Interestingly, the doctor is asked to sign something to allow the person to have driving lessons for a day to allow them to undertake a re­test. In practice, a licence would only be renewed for a period of a year and then reviewed and it is probably safe to say that once a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease has been made, a person’s driving days are drawing to a close.

If a person, understandably, continues to insist an driving, then the doctor may, in certain circumstances, tell the DVIA if he ar she is concerned with public safety. However, this is not something which is done lightly and usually only happens after prolonged negotiation between the patient, the doctor and their family. It is not unknown for spouses to have to hide car keys ar even disable the car to stop the person from driving. In addition to this, although not a problem in the UK at present, there are a large number of older people in the USA who hold private pilot licence’s and this is an emerging issue for them.

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