Dementia is a condition mostly associated with changes to memory but this medical condition can affect a variety of thinking skills such as:
- Judgement such as distances and space
- Problem solving
- Decision making
- Reaction times
Driving relies on a mix of mental abilities which need to be undertaken quickly, safely and consistently. In the early or mild stages of the condition, the person may still be able to drive safely as driving is a well learned skill. However, dementia is a condition known to slowly change over the years and thinking skills will deteriorate over time. Safe driving also entails being able to recognise when to stop driving.
Continuing to drive safely
Driving regularly may maintain those physical and mental driving skills for longer and will help with remembering to do all the things needed for safe driving. Driving well known routes is good but also try and vary the route to keep using those thinking skills. Look at road signs and markings to refresh memory, even when driving well known routes, as this helps the brain to recognise familiar driving signs, helps with being able to multitask and encourages good observational skills around the vehicle. Try not to rely too much on passenger information on where to go or when to go, keep your brain actively involved in driving and make those decisions for yourself. Give yourself and other road users appropriate time and space so everyone has the ability to drive safely.
How Dementia may affect driving
As the condition progresses, the person’s driving style may change. This may be noticed by a family member, friend or neighbour. Sometimes the person with dementia does not notice the change. Therefore they will need help and support in making the decision to stop driving. The following list shows some examples of possible changes to someone’s driving ability:
- Driving more slowly
- Driving faster
- Changes to road position, for example driving too close to parked cars or driving in the middle of the road
- Hesitancy at junctions and roundabouts
- Forgetting known routes or needing more directions or instructions
- An increasing number of dents or scratches to the vehicle
- More frequent repairs such as needing a new gear box
- Regularly blaming other drivers for road incidents
Dementia affects people in different ways so if you have any doubts or queries about driving with a condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s then your local Mobility Centre will be happy to arrange a driving assessment.