It is crucial for people with dementia to remain mentally active and engage in activities outside of the home environment to prevent cognitive decline or slow down its progression.
However, many older people often see public transportations as a threat to their well-being, considering it inadequate for their needs. Driving a car has become a basic necessity nowadays, especially for those living in rural areas or in areas where public transport is not so efficient.
And while the public perception of older drivers is generally negative, data and research seem to point in another direction:
Drivers older than 80 consistently show more prudent driving behaviors, and in general, driving skills seem to improve with age.
However, the risk of a crash for the elderly living and driving with dementia significantly increases. Although this varies between people, patients are in general capable of driving relatively risk-free for up to three years after the onset of dementia.
In this case, it is vital that physicians inform the newly diagnosed patients about the risks associated with driving and inquire about their driving capabilities and habits.
Legally speaking, there is no standard set of practice, with some countries requiring the physician to report to the competent driving authority about new dementia cases, while other countries leave it to the new patient to self-report.
People with early dementia definitely can benefit from driving. Stopping driving can limit access to family, friends, and services and is an independent risk factor for entry to a nursing home. However, it is essential to find a balance between public safety and the need to remain mentally healthy.
Source: Breen, D.A., et al. (2007), Driving and Dementia, BMJ, 334(7608), pp. 1365–1369