John Quinn was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 59, but his partner had noticed years earlier that he was having trouble driving.
- Up to 487,500 Australians are estimated to have dementia
- University of Queensland develops video-based hazard perception test to assess whether patients can still drive
- The project has received $1.3 million in federal funding, and driving tests are expected to be available by 2025.
Glennis Petrie said John began vocalizing the driving process as he sat behind the wheel.
“He stopped in the middle of the highway and there was no traffic and I was like, ‘What’s going on?
“There were too many close calls, to the point of refusing to be a passenger in the car. I said, ‘If you need to go somewhere, I’ll drive.'”
After being diagnosed with dementia, Mr Quinn followed Queensland regulations by reporting his condition to the Department of Transport.
“I started to have enough insight to realize that things were getting a little bit difficult, and at that point my primary care doctor started insisting I go for tests, driving tests,” he said. .
Now 71, he paid to have a full evaluation and practical exam by a driving instructor and an occupational therapist.
He passed and was conditionally allowed to continue driving, but ultimately decided to cut the car keys.
“At the end of the day, I don’t drive much anyway, so I was wondering what’s the point of continuing to drive?
“So we went to the Department of Transportation and gave up our driver’s license,” he said.
A former school principal and dementia awareness advocate, he said there was an “introduction” period so he was fine with the decision.
He bought a bike and a new chapter began.
“Sometimes I would ride my bike to a friend’s house and then we would get in his car together and drive to Chandler and go swimming there,” he said.
But Petrie said that for some people with dementia, the process is more abrupt.
“We know too many people have lost their licenses on their diagnosis and career days,” she said.
“Because they were truck drivers or drivers, one day they lost their jobs and their ability to pay their mortgages.
“This is a complex issue. Driving is a complex task, dementia is a complex issue, but everyone needs to be treated individually and with respect.”
Developing video safety tests
Dr Teresa Scott, a psychology researcher at the University of Queensland, says people with dementia can drive safely initially.
“But they will reach a stage where their physical and cognitive abilities decline to a point where they are no longer safe,” she said.
Finding the right time to stop driving can be emotionally charged for families and doctors who need to assess a person’s health before driving.
“When someone tells you they can’t drive even though it may be safe to do so, that has a huge impact on people’s emotional reactions,” said Dr. Scott.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Dementia Australia estimates that between 386,000 and 487,500 Australians have dementia.
Dr Scott said there is currently no clear process for determining when driving is considered unsafe, and that GPs have a “very difficult” role for patients to “enforce driver safety”. He said it could be responsible for
Her team is developing a video-based hazard perception test that can be used to aid assessment.
“The purpose of the test is to test the person’s ability to predict traffic accidents, such as predicting danger,” she said.
Dr. Scott says people diagnosed with dementia may not be tested at all or undergo a pen-and-paper memory test before their license is revoked.
She said the new video-based evaluation was fairer and more objective.
“This means that people can continue to drive in a safe state and can be tested by their primary care physician, who can confidently say if they can continue to drive. .”
We also hope that people with dementia will be more receptive to this result.
“Accepting your health care professional’s decision to stop driving is very important in helping them move forward and find other ways to reach the community,” said Dr. Scott.
Maintaining driver dignity
The test has been fine-tuned with people with dementia and will incorporate real-life street footage that individuals see and respond to.
Dr. Scott said it could also have broader applications.
“We say that driving safety should look the same regardless of age or condition, so this test would certainly be suitable for older people,” she said.
Quinn said it helps people with dementia maintain dignity.
“What we need is a mechanism in place to ensure that the transition from drivable to inoperable is done respectfully,” he said.
The project has received a $1.3 million federal grant and plans to make the test available to medical professionals by 2025.