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Can I Drive with Dementia?

Driving and dementia- an A-Z guide

Everyone remembers their first car- that heady rush of independence as you set off on your debut solo journey. Initially the sensation of driving alone is unsettling but pretty soon driving becomes second nature and the freedom it brings feels like an essential part of your existence.

So what happens when dementia interrupts that which we feel we are entitled to do? Driving is often bound up with our sense of independence, and we are rightly, fiercely protective of it for that reason. It’s only natural and normal for the subject of driver safety to be a challenging one to tackle for people living with dementia and their families. Through this article we will cover:

  • what the law says about driving and dementia

  • signs that indicate driving could be dangerous

  • how to broach the topic of driving safely

  • staying independent without a car

What does the law say about driving with dementia and what to expect?

The directive for driving when living with dementia is very clear- once a diagnosis of dementia has been received, you are legally required to inform the DVLA of it. This doesn’t automatically mean that your driver’s licence will be revoked but the DVLA Medical Issues team will probably follow one or more of these next steps:

  • organise an independent health check

  • reach out to your doctor for more information on your diagnosis

  • ask you to perform a basic assessment

Based on the details they gather, they will inform you in writing of the next steps. Being asked to surrender a driver’s licence is only one of the outcomes, alongside other possibilities- such as, being issued with a renewed licence, or a limited licence to be checked again in a year or two.

While it’s important to be prepared, remember that maintaining a sense of independence is possible even without a car to drive. Like many changes that come alongside a diagnosis of dementia, living well and happily is achievable with some small adaptations.

How will I know when it’s time to give up driving?

Provided the DVLA grant permission to continue driving you are legally allowed to get behind the wheel- although in some instances, it may be that you wish to voluntarily surrender your driving licence. Everyone’s experience of dementia will be different but it can be easier to accept, and maintain a sense of control, if you independently decide not to drive. When to do so can be a difficult decision to make- here are some signs you might want to look out for:

  • you find yourself getting lost or confused driving habitual routes

  • you struggle to keep in lane

  • you begin to have minor accidents

  • roadworks and road signage becomes more confusing

  • your family or friends have started to express concerns about safety

How to broach the subject of giving up driving with a loved one

So often weaved into our sense of identity, stopping driving is a complicated and potentially emotive subject to raise with loved ones. For some people living with dementia, the idea of giving up driving is extremely distressing- and understandably so. If you have noticed any of the signs above you could start by finding a good time to gently point them out. Make sure that:

  • It’s a good time- that tiredness, hunger, discomfort aren’t going to negatively impact what you want to say.

  • You sit down together, rather than stand.

  • Empathise and listen to what they have to share. The fear of loss can be all consuming.

  • Help them to understand the great things about not driving- like not having to look for parking spaces in busy town centres, and cost-savings.

  • Point out that there are lots of other ways to remain mobile and independent that don’t involve driving- more on this below.

Remember you can also reach out to our Wayfinding Team who will be able to offer strategies to support you both, as you address your concerns.

How to stay independent without driving

With adaptations and the introduction of new routines, living well with dementia and remaining independent is possible. None of us likes change but once we get over the initial hurdle of accepting it, life does get easier. If driving is no longer possible, there are other methods of transport to consider:

  • Walking is great exercise and can be a brilliant new routine to adopt.

  • Talk to a taxi company you like and trust and think about pre booking them for shopping, or events you have in the diary.

  • Some local communities offer minibus or taxi rides for medical appointments- these can normally be booked through the local authority or with the hospital directly.

  • Family and friends can also help- don’t be afraid to reach out for support.

Whatever you and your family ultimately decide to do on the subject of driving, the Wayfinding Team at Dementia Support is here to help. We understand how emotional this process can be and are here to help those living with dementia and their families, as you navigate the dementia journey together.


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