Can people with dementia drive?

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Being licenced to drive is something that many of us take for granted. For all of us, driving is a complicated task that requires complex thought processes, manual skills and fast reaction times. As we know, dementia can cause loss of memory, limited concentration, and vision and spatial awareness problems. This can affect a person’s judgement, reaction time and ability to drive safely. So what does that mean for people living with dementia?

In this article about dementia and driving we spoke to Dennis Frost. Dennis lives with dementia, is a member of the Dementia Australia Advisory Committee and drives.


How does a person with dementia apply for a drivers licence?

All drivers are required by law to tell their local licencing authority of any medical condition that might affect their ability to drive safely. Dementia, diabetes and some heart conditions, all need to be disclosed because they may affect a person’s driving ability.

Once notified, the licencing authority will ask that the driver’s doctor makes an initial assessment of the driver’s medical fitness. After this, a formal driving assessment may be required. Based on the results of these assessments the licencing authority will decide if the person can continue to drive.

Although it is quite a straightforward process for Dennis to renew his licence now, it hasn’t always been.

“One complication is that there is a requirement to have an occupational therapist in that field to do the assessment. When I had to hunt for one of those there were none that were located within 100 kilometres of here. I could see that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to continue driving because they couldn’t get that assessment done even though they could pass it,” he said.

“It’s put all the annual hurdles in place to prove I can still drive which makes it slightly more complicated.

“I have to get an optometrist report which happily coincides with my annual eye check-up anyways. And that is to give the information to my geriatrician who does all the paperwork. Then it’s just handing in the paperwork.”


What would be the impact of not being able to drive?

Dennis lives in a large regional centre, and he said his life would be impacted significantly if he wasn’t able to drive.

“I have thought about what will happen when I can no longer drive and I can’t see any means of being able to live the same way,” he said.

“Simple things will suddenly become huge. I live in a large regional centre but there is nothing that is actually close.”

A diagnosis of dementia does not always mean that a person must give up driving straight away. Because the condition involves a gradual decline in cognitive and physical ability however, they will need to stop driving at some point.

The experience of giving up driving can be very difficult for many people, and the sense of grief and loss can be ongoing.

For quality of life and wellbeing, it’s vital to think about and plan ways that a person living with dementia and their families and carers can keep mobile, active and socially connected in the transition to non-driving.

We have a number of support services to help you or a loved one through this difficult transition. To find out more please call us on 1800 100 500.


What are the alternatives to driving?

When people stop driving, they often stop making social trips, like visiting friends, family, attending functions or participating in hobbies. For people living alone or in rural and remote areas it can be especially difficult to manage without driving.

For Dennis, if he was unable to drive, public transport is not a viable option as it is virtually non-existent in his area.

“To go and visit my sister is a four-hour drive and trying to organise other ways of doing that is impossible,” he said.

“People talk about public transport; it would be a five kilometre walk to get to the railway station that may have a train every four or five hours. But it’s a 20-minute drive to the next town that has an active railway station.

“I have seen buses in the area, but I wouldn’t wait for one. They are designed to go from regional centre to regional centre, they wouldn’t accommodate the ability to travel internally within the town.”

Although there are taxis available where Dennis lives, he said he wouldn’t be able to engage with them easily.

“Pre-COVID times I went to a conference in Hobart and we decided that the only viable way to get to the airport was via train. So, we got a taxi to the railway station and then three train changes to get to the airport. But the logistics of organising a taxi was the hardest part,” he said.

“The other aspect is cost. I know someone who gets taxi vouchers, but they don’t cover the cost of travelling from her house to the centre of the city. So, there’s a huge out of pocket aspect to that.”

We thank Dennis for sharing his perspective and experiences on this topic.

Dementia and driving is a complex subject often involving many emotions as well as legal requirements. To find out more information relevant to your circumstances please access our resources on this topic:

No matter how you are impacted by dementia or who you are, Dementia Australia is here for you. Call us on 1800 100 500 for support and information.