Driving and dementia

Driving and dementia

A decline in cognitive abilities – for example the onset of dementia – is the greatest concern that families have about elderly relatives driving. Nearly half of people are worried about it, according to a survey by the IAM.

Forty-two per cent of people who have concerns about a relative driving have tried to discuss this with them. People with dementia may still be able to drive safely for some time after diagnosis, but because of the progressive nature of the disease, this would be short term.

Drivers must tell the DVLA if they have dementia or another condition that affects their driving.  The law assumes that people have a right to drive safely and will only intervene when medical conditions impair driving ability.  The aim is to allow people to drive for as long as possible. If the DVLA allows someone with dementia to continue driving, then they will almost certainly have to have periodic medical assessments.

IAM chief executive Simon Best said:  “Staying healthy is the simplest way to ensure you are fit to drive but an independent and objective driving assessment will also help people make the right decision at the right time. Experts warn that the numbers suffering from dementia will continue to grow and it is important drivers seek advice before using their cars.  Families and friends need to be aware of the early warning signs of dementia and seek advice and medical help as soon as possible.”

Signs that an individual no longer has the skills needed to drive safely;

  • Difficulty judging speed, distance and space
  • Getting lost on familiar roads
  • Straying across lanes or hitting kerbs
  • Confusing the gas and brake pedals
  • Making slow or poor decisions
  • Failing to observe road signs and traffic signals
  • Parking inappropriately
  • Becoming angry or confused while driving
  • Causing passengers to have concerns about their driving

Given the varying progression of dementia, the driving skills of an individual with dementia can decrease significantly in between evaluations, therefore those who have demonstrated they are able to drive should gradually modify their driving to reduce the risk of an accident.

Over 800,000 people in the UK currently have dementia (17,000 are under 65).   This is expected to increase to over a million people by 2021.