An on-road driving evaluation is most reliable

The subject of when a person should stop driving due to dementia or other mental or physical impairments is usually met with dread and/or resistance, because it’s often the first loss of independence the person will face.

A recent study in the journal, Neurology, found that up to 76% of people with mild dementia drive appropriately and are able to pass a road test. At some point in time, all dementia sufferers will have to stop driving, as the disease worsens and memory, spatial orientation, and cognitive function decreases.

Although caretakers are often proven correct when they express concern that a dementia suffer’s driving may not be safe, experts agree that the most reliable measure of driving ability is an on-road driving test, and the laws regarding the reporting of dementia to the Departments of Motor Vehicles vary, according the the state.

According to Florida law, any person who has knowledge that a licensed driver has a mental – or physical – driving impairment can submit a report to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). The DHSMV will notify the driver in writing, then investigate the report. If the report appears warranted, the DHSMV will test the driver. The law provides that no report can be used as evidence in any civil or criminal trial or proceeding, and anonymity is available.

If a person with dementia shows one or more of the following signs, itís time to have a serious conversation with the driver, his/her doctor, and/or the DHSMV: 1) stopping in traffic for no reason or ignoring traffic signs, 2) failing to signal or signaling inappropriately, 3) drifting into other lanes of traffic or driving on the wrong side of the street, 4) becoming lost on a familiar route, 5) parking inappropriately, 6) having difficulty seeing pedestrians or other vehicles, 7) having difficulty making turns or changing lanes, 8-becoming drowsy or falling asleep while driving, 9) lacking good judgment, 10) Having minor accidents or near misses.

Reasons other than dementia to consider a driving evaluation: 1) not seeing as well as in the past, 2) experiencing slowed reaction time or a loss of flexibility, 3) having a medical condition, chronic disease or physical limitation that may lead to a loss of range of motion, flexibility, or strength in the arms or legs, 4) a loss of peripheral (side) vision, depth perception, or other vision related change, 5) if you have been told that you should stop driving, and you do not agree.

If you stopped driving after an illness such as a stroke, an evaluation could show whether the stroke has affected your ability to drive safely and also point out strategies, rehabilitation therapies, or special equipment that could help you drive safely again. After a period of recovery time, coaching and retraining can prepare you to get back behind the wheel, sharpen your skills and build your confidence.

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