Driving and dementia

Should you continue driving following a diagnosis of dementia?

Dementia is a broad term used to describe a progressive decline in memory and function, ie, mental ability. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is characterised by several things including forgetfulness, an inability to carry out simple tasks and poor judgement.

Driving requires quick reflexes and decision-making. While most people voluntarily stop driving following a dementia diagnosis, some don’t. However, there will come a time eventually when driving is unsafe and not possible due to impaired thinking and reaction times.

Here’s some advice about driving and dementia:

Consult your GP

If you, or somebody you know, has been diagnosed with dementia, you must talk to your GP about whether it’s safe to keep driving or not. While driving provides independence, it can be unsafe if your brain isn’t functioning as it should be.

Your doctor has a legal duty to make an assessment, and may refer you to an occupational therapist for a driving assessment. This assessment is different from a routine driving test. Doctors are legally obliged to let the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) know if they think a person is unfit to drive but is likely to carry on driving.

Let NZTA and your insurance company know

They will give you advice on what you need to do. Some insurance companies may have strict rules surrounding a diagnosis of dementia and insurance coverage, ie, you won’t be covered if you have an accident.

If you feel unsafe, stop

If diagnosed early on, you may come to your own realisation that it’s time to stop. If you feel unsafe or like you can’t react quickly if needed, then it could be time to stop. It’s best to stop driving before an accident occurs or your mental ability declines sharply.

Plan ahead

If you think it’s time to hang up the car keys, find out about other means of transport or financial help you may be entitled to. You could organise for friends or family to help you out with things like grocery shopping.

For more information visit NZTA’s website and the Alzheimer’s New Zealand’s website.

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Last reviewed: 11 Apr 2017