People driving with dementia still topic of debate

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Many still wonder what the best course of action is concerning people driving with dementia. Photo Credit: Cyr/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA

Millions of elderly people are still driving and some of them have some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. What to do about people driving with dementia is still a topic of some debate.

Seven states require reporting for drivers with dementia

According to the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Arthur Daigneault, a Santa Ana, Calif. physician, is currently facing a wrongful death suit. He didn’t botch a surgery nor gave someone improper medication because prescribing it got him a kickback from a drug company. Instead, he’s being sued for not reporting a patient of his to the California Department of Motor Vehicles as having dementia.

His patient, Lorraine Sullivan, 82, was experiencing memory loss since at least 2007 and had been prescribed medication to treat dementia, but didn’t feel it was severe enough to report. Unfortunately, she accidentally steered her Toyota Corolla into oncoming traffic in late May, 2010, resulting in a crash. Her passenger, William Powers, 90, her partner of 30 years, suffered fatal injuries.

Only seven states mandate reporting dementia to Departments of Motor Vehicles.

The great debate

Though plenty of examples of accidents involving elderly drivers exist, numerous examples of non-elderly drivers who screw up just as badly exist too. However, an estimated 57 million people, aged 65 years or older, will be on the road by 2030. Some wonder what’s to be done about those with dementia or some form of cognitive impairment.

The American Academy of Neurologists, according to the New York Times, held a conference in Toronto in 2010 specifically to discuss the issue, including an extensive literature review. Among other conclusions, the AAN pointed out that, depending on the severity of the dementia, 41 to 76 percent of elderly drivers with dementia are able to pass a driver’s test.

Other studies have found even the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s impairs driving ability. According to USA Today, a 2009 study found people with the early stages of dementia or other mild cognitive impairment commit 21 percent more driving errors. Still, this doesn’t mean the nation’s seniors should have their cars taken from them and made to keep paying their car’s loans.

Monitoring is essential

At the moment, several states, according to the Los Angeles Times, requires periodic driving tests and vision tests for elderly drivers. California requires drivers over 70 years of age to renew their licenses in person.

Just like any disease or disability, each case of dementia is unique, which is partially why many physicians and lawmakers are hesitant to advocate much of a national policy.

The AAN, according to the New York Times, recommends friends and loved ones keep a close eye on parents and grandparents driving with dementia from the earliest symptoms on, though, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, they may not be willing to report them if necessary. The state of Florida is one of the seven states that allows reporting unfit drivers, but in 2009, roughly half of reported drivers were flagged by police. Around one-third of reported drivers were reported by physicians and only 11 percent came from family or friends.

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Though it sounds odious and can harm a relationship with a patient or relative, reporting can save lives. On their recognizance, a person might not be willing to admit when its time to give up the keys. The AAN reported one study found 94 percent of patients with mild Alzheimer’s that still drove considered themselves safe drivers. Only 41 percent could pass a driving test.


Los Angeles Times

New York Times

USA Today

South-Florida Sun-Sentinel:

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