Dementia and driving

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​​​​​​​An estimated 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK – a number that's projected to rise to more than one million by 2022, and two million by 2051.

older-mans-hand-on-steering-wheel

Some 225,000 people will develop dementia this year, which is roughly one every three minutes, while a fifth of people over the age of 85 have dementia.

What is dementia?

Dementia describes the symptoms that occur when there's a decline in brain function.

There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, and some people may have a combination of types of dementia.

Different types of dementia can affect people differently, and everyone will experience symptoms in their own way.

According to the NHS, however, there are some common early symptoms that may appear some time before a diagnosis of dementia. These include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes

Driving with dementia

People with dementia may still be able to drive safely for some time after it has been diagnosed, but because of the progressive nature of the disease, there will come a time when they must give up.

According to Alzheimer’s Society, most people with dementia tend to stop driving within three years of being diagnosed.

Losing the ability to drive can have a significant impact on someone's independence and wellbeing. However, someone who is no longer safe to drive can be a source of concern for families and loved ones because they put themselves and others at risk.

Making the decision to ask someone to stop can be difficult and hard to broach.

Time to stop driving?

In December 2018, new guidelines were published to help doctors assess when people living with dementia should stop driving.

Newcastle University and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) created a driving and dementia toolkit for health professionals which highlights the changes in driving that indicate that someone is becoming unsafe. These include:

  • Being unable to hold a steady course in a defined lane and having difficulty following subtle changes in the course of the road
  • Repeated failure to respond in busy environments such as junctions or crossings
  • Seeming 'overwhelmed' in everyday driving situations
  • Decline in ability to make independent decisions when driving
  • Verbal prompt required by passenger
  • Over-correction or erratic correction to changes in road direction or the environment
  • Failing to release the handbrake
  • Failing to check for hazards before moving off
  • Having trouble changing gears or missing gear changes
  • Heightened passenger vigilance

Dementia and driving laws

By law, you must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if you suffer from dementia (or the DVA in Northern Ireland).

You can be fined up to £1,000 if you don’t tell the DVLA about a medical condition that affects your driving. You may be prosecuted if you’re involved in an accident as a result.

You can do this by contacting them by phone, email or post. DVLA contact details can be found at GOV.UK.

If you’re writing in, you’ll need to download and fill in form CG1, before sending it to the address found on the form.

You’ll be asked to fill in the details of your GP and your consultant, the name of any clinics you’re attending and details of your medication, including the name, dosage and reason for taking it.

When you download the form, you’ll also receive a medical consent form which, when completed, will give the DVLA the authority to write to your GP and/or consultant to arrange for them to release any relevant medical information deemed necessary.

Medical advisers at the DVLA will then decide between three options:

  1. Cancel your driving licence immediately
  2. Renew your licence, typically for one to three years before reassessment
  3. Request more medical information, or to ask you to take an on-road driving assessment

You must also inform your car insurance provider. If you don't, your policy may become invalid.

Driving assessment

The DVLA (or DVA in Northern Ireland) may ask you to attend a driving assessment, to determine whether you’re safe to continue to drive.

There are accredited driving assessment centres across the UK and each main one has a satellite centre which may be more convenient for you to get to. In cases where the DVLA/DVA have asked for the assessment, the agency will pay the fee.

The licence holder should go to the centre with someone else in case they need to be driven home. They’ll need to take their driving licence and any glasses they wear to drive.

The driving assessment isn’t like a driving test. It’s an overall assessment of the impact dementia is having on a person’s driving and whether they’re able to drive safely and in comfort. The driving assessment is carried out by a specialist occupational therapist and an advanced driving instructor. Overall, it can take about two hours.

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