Driving Assessments for people with Dementia
- A diagnosis of any form of dementia does not necessarily prevent anyone from driving.
- Nevertheless, dementia is normally progressive and at some point, it is almost certain to impact upon the person’s ability to drive
- It is important, both for the person with dementia and the wider general public, that their ability to drive safely is reviewed as required. In an ideal world we need to be more proactive and prevent an accident from happening!
- Equally, driving is a very important part of life for many people and ceasing driving can have a huge impact upon domestic and social activities. Hopefully, having a regular assessment will prevent people from ceasing driving before they need to.
The Assessment procedure.
- Physical assessment. When there is a concurrent physical impairment (including loss of sensation, strength, reduced range of movement) we conduct a brief assessment in the office to establish if adapted control systems are indicated. This said, it is normally very difficult for someone with dementia to learn new methods of car control.
- Cognitive Assessment. The main assessment tool used at HAD is the Rookwood Driving Battery. This is a collection of 12 separate tests looking at mental skills relevant to driving. The battery does have a scoring system. This can indicate whether or not someone is likely to have difficulty driving which can give an indication regarding potential difficulty with driving. However, this is not definitive and, regardless of the results of this testing, HAD will invariably enable the assessment to proceed to in-car.
- Eyesight test. This is simply a requirement for the person being assessed to be able to read a number plate on a vehicle at 20 metres. This is the minimum legal distance. Glasses or contact lenses can be worn for this test if required. If someone is unable to do this then their eyesight is not of sufficient acuity to meet the legal requirement for driving and it would not be legal to drive, and the assessment would be terminated at that point.
- In-car assessment. This is, perhaps, the most important aspect of the process and the one which the Assessors recommendations is based on. It involves the following components-:
- A familiarisation period in a quiet area or car park. It can be very stressful for someone to be asked to drive a car with which they are unfamiliar. This is particularly true with people who have dementia for whom even subtle differences from the car they are used to driving can prove to be very disconcerting. For this reason, there is an “open-ended” familiarisation period allowed before the formal assessment begins. This hopefully allows the person being assessed to become more comfortable driving the assessment vehicle. Help can be given by the Assessors during this period to achieve this. Once this familiarity is achieved then the formal assessment can begin.
- The assessment route is pre-determined. Depending upon the centre being used the length of the route will be between 11 and 14 miles. They all include a wide variety of road and traffic situations, including complex junctions and roundabouts and some faster roads and dual carriageways. Although people may only drive by choice on certain roads and in certain areas, it is important to cover any situations they may come across. Driving licences are not restricted to areas local to the holder and the DVLA understandably require anyone holding a licence to be able to manage to drive safely wherever they are.