Common ailments

Driving with dementia

My father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Although he’d like to remain as independent as possible, I’m not sure that it’s safe for him to carry on driving. What should I do?

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that worsens over time. In the early stages of dementia, many people are able to go about their daily activities as normal but as the illness gets worse it is likely they will need support with even simple everyday tasks.

Some people with dementia prefer to give up driving because they find it stressful but others can continue driving for some time. In some cases the person's doctor will advise, as a precaution, that they stop driving immediately, at least until further assessments are carried out.

If your father wishes to continue driving, he will need to inform his car insurance company that he has been diagnosed with dementia or his insurance may become invalid. He also has to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) of his diagnosis. The DVLA will ask for medical reports and possibly a special driving assessment to determine whether he can continue driving. If your father is permitted to continue driving, he will need to give up driving when his symptoms become bad enough to make it unsafe for him to be on the road. This is for his own protection as well as passengers and other road users.

Safe driving requires a complex interaction of eyes, brain and muscles, and an ability to respond quickly in unexpected circumstances. Your father’s general behaviour should give you a good idea of whether safety behind the wheel is likely to be an issue for him. If for example he appears inattentive to things happening around him, is clumsy or displays delayed or inappropriate reactions, these are clear signs that he probably shouldn’t be driving. If he does have to stop driving then he will probably need your emotional and practical support as most people find this has a big impact on their lifestyle and feeling of independence and it may take time to adjust to this change.

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