Alzheimer’s ACT rejects dementia driving test
By JESSICA NAIRN
ALZHEIMER’S ACT has rejected calls from Alzheimer’s NSW to introduce a specific driving test for dementia, saying it would be an oversimplified approach to a complex disease.
Alzheimer’s NSW yesterday called on the State’s Road Transport Authority to develop a driving test for dementia, after research found current testing for older drivers does not always pick up unsafe motorists.
“The research suggests that drivers with dementia may pass a driving test under controlled conditions but be unsafe in an uncontrolled environment when they must rely on their own cognitive abilities,” Alzheimer’s NSW chief executive, John Watkins said. (21/04/2010)
Dementia is a degenerative disease and affects one in four Australians over the age of 85 in. More than 90,000 people aged over 80 still have their licence in NSW.
Alzheimer’s ACT chief executive, Michelle McGrath, said the disease affected each person differently making it impossible for a single test to determine whether they were fit to drive.
‘The key issue here is to determine when they have to stop driving, and that can’t be answered with one test,’ she said. (22/04/2010)
Unlike NSW, elderly drivers in Canberra are not required to pass a test every three years in order to retain their licence.
Instead, drivers over 75 must provide ACT’s Road Transport Authority with a yearly medical certificate stating whether they are fit to drive.
‘When drivers renew their licence they must notify the authority if they’ve been diagnosed with dementia by ticking a box on the form,’ she said. ‘But unless their doctor says they can’t drive, it doesn’t affect anything, it just promotes awareness.’
The NSW report also recommended new laws to define the legal responsibilities of drivers diagnosed with dementia.
“We’ve surveyed insurance companies and found there’s little consistency in the advice about whether a person with an undeclared diagnosis would be covered,” Mr Watkins said.
Ms McGrath agreed there is a dire need for clearer guideline from insurance companies.
“At the moment, it’s very unclear whether a driver is covered if they have been diagnosed as fit to drive from their doctor, but have also been diagnosed with dementia,” she said.
Canberra’s Council on Ageing has noticed discrepancies among insurance companies and cautioned elderly drivers to approach their own companies and doctors for advice.
A council spokesman said the council provided general information for elderly drivers with dementia but as each case was different a blanket set of recommendations was impossible to apply. (22/04/2010)
Ms McGrath said the most important issue surrounding dementia and driving was an early diagnosis of the disease and continued support.
“If a person is diagnosed as unfit to drive because of dementia, the transition can be quite upsetting for them,” she said.
Ms McGrath said while some found it easy to relinquish their licence, “for some others, especially men, it’s like losing your identity, independence or even manhood.”