Dementia is a condition that gradually disrupts a person’s memory, speech, concentration, judgement and ability to plan. There are many types of dementia. The most common is Alzheimer’s disease, which makes up about 60 per cent of cases. Although dementia can affect anyone, it is more common in people aged over 65 years.
How dementia affects driving
Driving is a complex task that requires attention, memory, judgement and the ability to plan.
We use all of these skills to judge distances, use roundabouts and intersections, and maintain our position within a lane. We also rely on them to return to familiar places, follow road rules and prevent mistakes when driving.
As dementia advances, these skills decline to the point where our ability to drive becomes unsafe. Often, we are not aware of these changes.
What to do after a diagnosis
If you are diagnosed with dementia you are legally required to notify Roads and Maritime Services. Reporting your condition doesn’t mean your licence will be immediately affected. Roads and Maritime may request your medical practitioner complete a medical assessment to evaluate your ability to drive safely.
Use the contact form on the Transport for NSW website or call 13 22 13 for more information.
People without a diagnosis
Not all people with dementia will have a formal diagnosis. In the early stages, the condition can be difficult to notice as the changes are gradual. However, people with advancing dementia often show changes in their driving ability.
If you, or a family member or friend, notice any changes to your driving ability, it’s important to see a medical practitioner. They can help you assess your health and determine if the changes are the result of dementia or other medical conditions.
Signs to look for
- Becoming disoriented or lost while driving in familiar areas
- Forgetting the purpose of the trip
- Losing the car in a familiar car park
- Having difficulty making quick decisions at intersections or busy roads
- Driving through stop or give way signs, or red traffic lights
- Not seeing other vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists
- Having difficulty driving into a carport or garage
- Having slower reaction times
- Difficulty using the brake, accelerator or steering wheel
- Confusing the brake and accelerator pedals
Early diagnosis of dementia can make it easier for you, your family or carers to plan ahead for lifestyle changes, including your mobility and transport needs.
One way to plan ahead to maintain your mobility is to consider the transport services in your area. These might include community transport, courtesy buses, taxis and public transport.
You could also investigate the home-delivery services of your local supermarket or pharmacist and use internet banking to reduce your reliance on the car.
Some people might consider relocating to be close to transport, services, family or other support networks.
A ‘Driving and Dementia Decision Aid’ booklet is available to help assess changes to driving abilities and plan for retirement from driving.
Dementia Australia has detailed information for families and carers, including support services, counselling and education programs.