Will I have to give up driving if I have dementia?

Being diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s doesn’t always mean that you have to give up your car straight away. Find out why and when you might need to stop driving

Being able to drive is often a key part of maintaining independence as you get older, so if you’ve just been diagnosed with dementia you’re probably really concerned that you might lose your driving license immediately. But don’t panic. The good news is that a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to put a stop to your driving.

Could this be you?

You’ve been driving for decades and consider yourself a safe, responsible driver who’s never been involved in a road traffic accident. After all these years behind the wheel, driving is simply an automatic action that needs very little thinking, you are still perfectly capable of driving your car…

Two facts worth knowing

Whilst you have every intention of continuing to drive safely, and the skills involved might feel totally automatic, driving does in fact require a complex mixture of thought processes and manual skills, which sadly can be affected by dementia.

1. Your spatial awareness –the ability to judge distances between areas – might not be as accurate as it used to be, and this can impact quite noticeably on your ability to work out safe distances while you’re driving.

2. Dementia can also affect your ability to make sense of road signs, remember routes and rules of the road, have quick enough reaction times to allow for stopping, starting and the actions of other drivers, and being able to read the road.

BUT: Dementia is a condition that gets gradually worse, many of these symptoms may not be a problem for you yet, and it’s quite possible you could continue to drive for some time.

Telling the DVLA about your dementia

It is a legal requirement to declare your diagnosis to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and you could face a fine if you fail to do so. Once this is done, unless your doctor has already advised that you stop driving, the DVLA will send a questionnaire to get permission to look at medical reports from your doctor. Advisors at the DVLA will then make a decision on whether you can continue to drive based on these reports.

They may also request that you take a driving assessment at a mobility centre so you can be appraised. If they decide that you can still drive, you’ll get a new driving licence that’s valid for a limited time period (usually one year, but it can be longer). This means you’ll need to be reviewed once the licence runs out.

If it’s decided that you can’t drive any more, you can appeal the decision, but you won’t be allowed to drive until the appeal is heard.

Did you know? Most people continue to drive for around three years after being diagnosed with dementia

No licence? No panic!

What to do now…

Being told you can’t continue to drive is bound to be hard and might involve some big changes in your life. But try to focus on what you still can do, rather than what you can’t, and remember there are still lots of ways of getting out and about

1. Free buses - make use of whatever public transport is available to you, including discounted or free travel fares. You will be able to apply for a bus pass that gives you free off peak local travel (after 9.30am on weekdays and at weekends) once you reach state pension age.

2. Cheap trains - you can apply for a Senior Railcard from the age of 60, which will give you substantial discounts on fares.

3. Use your feet - a walk to the local shops is far better for your physical and mental wellbeing than driving – and you won’t have to worry about parking either!

4. Phone a friend – don’t be afraid to ask friends or neighbours for a lift. After all, wouldn’t you be happy to help them if they were in your position?

5. Taxis – work out how much money you’re saving on petrol, parking, car insurance etc. Surely you could afford to splash out occasionally on a taxi into town?

6. Community transport - if you need to get to a hospital appointment, there may be some form of free transport available to you, sometimes through the Royal Voluntary Service (royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk) or a local charity.

Tip: Whilst it’s often good to get out of the house, there are some daily chores that you can do at home if you’d rather. For example, rather than visiting the shops or post office you could do online grocery shopping, and pay your bills online. If it sounds daunting…ask you children or grandchildren for help!

Remember!

As well as telling the DVLA about your diagnosis, you’ll also need to inform your car insurance provider, as that could affect you if there was an accident.

- Unsure if you should be giving up driving? These are the signs of unsafe driving.