As we get older there comes a time when we wonder if we are still safe to drive. Annual medicals for the over 80s may make the decision for us, but developing dementia may creep up on us and we may have to make the decision ourselves, perhaps with the help of a partner or carer.
Dr Theresa Scott, a psychologist at the University of Queensland, is the chief investigator in The Living with Dementia and Driving
Study which aims to aid elderly drivers cope with the transition to being non-drivers.
The study is for people living with dementia, who have retired from driving or are considering retiring from driving in the future.
“Dementia is not the only reason to stop driving. Many people stop driving due to failing eyesight which gives them an insight into their driving skills,” she said. “Memory tests are not a good indicator of driving skill. Dementia can creep up on you.
“You might not realise you are no longer safe; while some people with dementia may still be safe to drive.
“A care partner often advises a driver to cease when the driver can’t cope or keeps getting lost.”
Driving is more than just a way of getting A to B. For most seniors it also represents independence and freedom. Driving cessation can result in less social interactions, difficulty with day to day activities such as shopping, impacts on mood, and an adverse effect on overall quality of life.
“It can be difficult for a person to come to terms with loss of independence and the need to rely on family and friends and being unable to reciprocate. It can also lead to social isolation, depression and anxiety.
“Social isolation increases the risk of dementia creating a feedback loop where dementia leads to more isolation which in turn leads to more dementia.
“A person can expect to live seven to ten years after ceasing to drive,” she said.
That provides a good reason to develop a program that offers emotional and practical support for people and their family members, making the transition to life without driving.
CarFreeMe is a free community-based program designed to ease the change for participants and their care partner.
No driving tests are involved. CarFreeMe involves individual assessments of the person’s need for getting around their community, providing education and support from a health professional, finding solutions to getting around without driving, and trying out different transport options.
You will receive information and support for continuing to do the things that are important to you without driving.
The course is run remotely by telehealth but is also available on a face-to 1:1 or small group basis for participants who are not confident with using digital technology.
The program utilises effective, client-centred methods to help older people manage driving cessation. It has been demonstrated in a randomised controlled trial to increase community mobility and transport satisfaction in older adults following driving cessation.
Researchers are currently recruiting participants in Perth with mild or moderate dementia for whom driving cessation is an issue.
Feedback from earlier participants in CarFreeMe has been very positive. They rated the program 9.7/10. People said after completing CarFreeMe they go out of the house more and use other transport more. They also felt more ready to make the right decision, at the right time.
To participate, or for any questions regarding the study, please contact Shelby Carruth, who is located in Perth on 0410 043 265 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Living with Dementia and Driving Study is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).