The Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute has developed a booklet to recognise when early onset dementia is starting to make your driving unsafe.
The booklet features a list of questions someone can answer to determine how much their driving skills have deteriorated, and also offers suggestions of alternatives for when someone has handed in their licence.
The Institute’s executive director, Professor Don Iverson, reflects on his own personal experiences relating to his elderly parents.
“In the latter years of their life, it was difficult to talk to them on the phone because they were in Canada and I was here,” Professor Iverson begins.
“The more I've got into it the more interesting I realised it is, but the challenge for us as a society is asking what we can do.
“Driving is a complex task and you're probably a better driver physically when you're in your 20s than 50s – race drivers are not 60 years old,” he claims.
According to Professor Iverson, “the older you get, it becomes more challenging and, with dementia, it's a progressive disease so it never gets better and you don't stop it”.
“People with dementia lose their ability to make judgements and see how much it has deteriorated so it's a serious issue,” he adds.
Professor Iverson says his research shows general practitioners “do not want the responsibility of determining when someone should give up driving”, and they don't have the tools to make an accurate judgement.
“Our booklet takes people through a series of questions to help them make that decision – I could do it with my mother or someone could do it with me.
“Now when someone has to stop driving they get angry, so we're preparing them for that time to get them thinking about it and how they could arrange other alternatives. We're now at the point where we've pilot tested and we're going to try a trial.”
He said doctors and patients who have seen the booklet have said “it’s something they would find useful”.
Once someone has handed their licence in, the Institute recommends they use public transport; acknowledging “while it will see a reduction in one's freedom, it's a manageable compromise”.
“Even if you've got mild or moderate dementia you can pass a driving test, particularly if it's in a familiar environment.
“So, we're encouraging people as they start to recognise the deterioration to simplify their driving, then when it comes time to hand in their licence, it becomes their own decision.”