Driving with dementia

When a person is diagnosed with dementia, they will usually be informed by their doctor that they are required to disclose this information to relevant authorities. This is a legal requirement and penalties do apply. 1 People with dementia have a higher incidence of motor vehicle accidents and when involved in a traffic accident it is more likely to result in a fatality or serious injury. 4

Immediately after diagnosis with dementia the decision to keep driving is, to a degree, a personal decision although a minimum ability is required.  In the past, the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE) has been used to test for driving ability, however this has been found to be a poor predictor of individual driving ability. That is, although people who score better on the MMSE have better driving ability, some that score well on MMSE still have poor or dangerous driving ability. 5 To date, the most effective test appears to be a combination of off road and on road driving ability tests along with a medical assessment and an off road assessment by an occupational therapist. 4

It is very important for a person with dementia to carefully consider whether they will continue driving after diagnosis with dementia. Of course it would be difficult to stop driving and would decrease the feeling of independence, but consideration of the consequences is paramount. For some people the solution can be to switch to a less powerful car, or to limit driving to daytime and only short distances and/or familiar routes. Assessing Fitness to Drive by AustRoads provides detailed information about this topic (internet connection required.) Further information on driving with dementia and testing in Australian states and territories is available below. If from outside Australia, simply contact your local licensing or traffic authority for assistance.

Driving with dementia information for Australian states and territories:

StateDepartmentPhone Number
ACT Department of Urban Services 13 22 81
New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority 13 22 13
Northern Territory Motor Vehicle Registry 1300 654 628
Queensland Queensland Transport 13 23 80
South Australia Transport SA 13 10 84
Tasmania Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources 1300 135 513
Victoria Vic Roads 13 11 71
Western Australia Department of Planning and Infrastructure 13 11 56

References and recommended reading

  1. Alzheimer's Australia (2005). Legal Planning and Dementia, Position Paper 5. Available from http://www.alzheimers.org.au/upload/LegalPlanning.pdf
  2. Office of the Public Advocate. (2006). Powers of Attorney. Available from http://www.publicadvocate.vic.gov.au/Powers-of-attorney.html 
  3. Alzheimers Australia. (2005). Legal Planning and Dementia. Available from http://www.alzheimers.org.au/legal
  4. Alzheimer's Australia (2001). Driving and Dementia: A Background Paper. Available from http://www.alzheimers.org.au/upload/DrivingBackground.pdf
  5. O'Neill, D., Neubauer, K., Boyle, M., Gerrard, J., & Surmon, D. (1992). Dementia and driving. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 85, 199-202.