Carers of people with dementia

Driving

Getting a driver's license marks a significant moment in any person's life, bringing with it opportunities for independence, freedom and discovery previously unavailable. The loss of that license is something that has to happen sooner or later to people with dementia and the result can be devastating to both carer and sufferer.

In some cases, the driver shows some insight into the fact that their driving is becoming unreliable and decides to stop, although maybe not until after a series of mishaps. A man in his forties who was developing frontal lobe dementia (sometimes called Pick's Disease) began to lose his sense of direction and recognised that it was no longer safe for him to drive, much to his wife's relief. For another man who had Pick's disease his driving became a symptom of his condition and again it was almost a relief when he was no longer able to drive although in this case it came about after he had been involved in an accident.

Where the driver doesn't have such insight into the their worsening driving abilities, the carer is faced with a terrible decision. How to put an end to any further driving. One man was very unhappy about losing the right to drive and a consultant tried to give his wife the responsibility for making a decision, even before the diagnosis of Pick's disease had been confirmed. She described the pressure this put on their relationship, she was relieved when an independent assessment by the DVLA showed her husband how real the problem was.

Dementia is not so common that all GPs have prior experience of dealing with the problem of patients who need to stop driving. One carer describes how she succeeded with the help of a Community Psychiatric Nurse and her GP to get her mother tested by the DVLA. One carer describes how he was actually relieved that his partner got into trouble with the law after going through a red light as this relieved him of the responsibility for stopping him from doing one of the few things he liked to do and could still do.

More often the carer used more surreptitious means to stop driving, relying on the knowledge that the dementia sufferer might forget about driving. They might hide the keys or even sell the car. But this may not be possible where someone in the early stages of dementia is living independently. A daughter had 'a nightmare' with her mother's driving. She persuaded a garage to hang onto her mother's car following a minor accident, only to have their plans ruined by the insurance company, who gave the game away.

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There tends to be a time in the course of dementia when neither the diagnosis nor the need to give up driving are totally clear cut. One son felt that had he realised how bad it had become he might have put a stop to his mother's driving earlier on.

In another case where four sisters shared concern for their insistently independent mother, the carer we interviewed had not been convinced that it was wrong for her mother to continue driving and this caused bitter arguments within the family.

Occasionally, giving up the car is not seen as a tragedy and public transport provides as satisfactory alternative. But for many, no longer being free to drive is seen as the beginning of the end.

Last reviewed March 2015.

Last updated March 2015.

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