Does a diagnosis of dementia mean an immediate end to driving?

Senior woman driving a car slowly in highway

“Do I have to stop driving?”
is a frequently asked question when people first receive a diagnosis of dementia

Although driving may feel like an automatic activity to experienced motorists, it actually requires complex interactions between eyes, brain and muscles, along with rapid reaction responses to deal with unexpected circumstances. As dementia takes hold, the skills needed for driving will inevitably be impeded and, at some point, the decision will have to be made to stop driving.

The timing of this decision will be different for each individual, and if diagnosis is made early, it needn’t necessarily be at the point of diagnosis. Some drivers continue driving safely for several years after dementia has first been confirmed.

What is essential, immediately after diagnosis, is that you inform both the DVLA and your insurance company of the diagnosis – not to do so is a criminal offence and will invalidate your insurance policy leaving you uninsured.

After that, it’s a question of judging whether safety is compromised. Your GP will be able to offer advice and a special driving assessment which aims to assess the impact the dementia is having on the safety and performance of the driver may be required.

Hard as it may be to accept, the following list
provides the warning signs that it’s time to stop driving:

  • Forgetting how to locate familiar places
  • Failing to observe traffic signs
  • Making slow or poor decisions in traffic
  • Driving at an inappropriate speed
  • Becoming angry or confused while driving
  • Hitting curbs
  • Using poor lane control
  • Making errors at junctions
  • Confusing the brake and gas pedals
  • Returning from a routine drive later than usual
  • Forgetting the destination you are driving to during the trip

Recognising these signs, some drivers quickly begin to find driving stressful and make the decision to stop relatively easily. All too often however, people with dementia tend to underestimate the impact the disease is having on their driving ability, and become angry and resentful when it is suggested they give up driving. Some even simply forget that the DVLA has ruled they must stop.

In these cases, it’s likely to fall on friends and family members to step in and take control.

Forward planning really  helps so that other transport options (such as taxis, shop-mobility, and local community transport schemes) can be explored before giving up driving entirely.

What’s important is that  loss of driving doesn’t feel like a loss of independence.
Support, patience and understanding will all be needed, but an end to driving should not feel like the end of the road.

Swindon Dementia