Your Concise Guide to Elderly Driver Assessments

Your Concise Guide to Elderly Driver Assessments

When should an elderly driver assessment happen? If you’re worried about an older driver’s performance on the road or you’re wanting to check you’re meeting safe driving standards, then this Concise Guide To An Elderly Driving Assessment is for you.

If you’re a senior driver, or concerned about a loved one you may have noted changes that may impact their safe driving skills such as:
  • Increased forgetfulness or other cognitive ability changes 
  • Near misses whilst driving, out of character traffic infringements or not attending to road sign instructions
  • Minor or major motor vehicle crashes
  • Avoiding driving at night or in low light conditions
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Pain from stiff joints
  • Vision or hearing troubles
  • Living with a medical condition like a neurodegenerative condition,
  • Reduced physical abilities after a big health event
  • Reduced attention levels to traffic laws or seeing the occasional dangerous driving behaviour

and you’ve likely wondered does this impact a person’s ability to control a motor vehicle and safe driving skills? If so should a senior driving assessment be done?

In this article we’ll cover what older driving assessments are available for seniors as well as:

Are You Still Fit To Drive?

Bill* a man in his late 70s had started to develop memory and thinking problems. At first it was forgetfulness with twist.

Easy to work around but unusual for him. After 9 months with gradual changes in these symptoms he saw a geriatrician. Bill was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, likely early stage Alzheimer’s dementia.

He was still driving and performing “reasonably well” at home. Bill went to see his GP as part of his yearly health check.  The medical assessment of fitness to drive is no doubt one of the most challenging experiences a GP faces in their practice.

Bill’s GP has suggested that a professional practical driving assessment is needed to check his driving capabilities.

For Bill, he’s clearly anxious about the impact of these assessments on his life. He says, “I feel normal” but for others around him, there are noticeable changes.

So What Does “Fitness To Drive” Mean

It’s clear the body changes as we age. Health conditions, and particularly those seen with neurological conditions, like dementia, can impact a senior driver’s ability to meet the diverse driving conditions on the road.  It’s this ability which is at the heart of the “fitness to drive” assessment.

Health conditions no doubt, can impact the skills necessary for driving such as your:

  • Memory skills, movement and coordination, strength, perception and sensation, for example, which is seen more so in people 75 years and older than younger people.

That’s one reason why senior drivers, those 75 years and over, are subject to regular medical assessments.

According to the Austroads’ Assessing Fitness to Drive (2016) “Driving a motor vehicle is a complex task requiring perception, good judgment, responsiveness and reasonable physical capability. A range of medical conditions, as well as treatments, may therefore impair driving ability.”  In short, impact your fitness to drive.

So, if you’re an older driver you’ll need to see your medical professional at least once every year for a medical fitness to drive assessment.

In some cases your doctor may ask you to get an Occupational Therapy driving assessment to help clarify your driving competency and overall fitness to drive.

How Can Age Affect Driving Performance?

You may have noticed that your memory, your vision, and how you process information has possibly changed compared to when you were younger.

In our Safe Driver Hub we commonly see in elder drivers with:

  • Physical Function Changes: Muscle strength, pain and stiff joints
  • Visual Function Changes: Troubles with vision, visual field, visual scanning, peripheral vision
  • Speed and Execution Changes: Speed of processing and reaction times
  • Cognitive Changes: Thinking and memory changes as well as troubles with awareness, insight and judgement skills

We’ve previously covered 6 factors to impact an older person’s driving performance which adds more to these points.

What Are The Common Senior Driver Assessments?

The Austroads’ guidelines, “Assessing fitness to drive” outline the roles and responsibilities for GPs and Health Professionals in the assessment of seniors regarding their fitness to drive for licensing purposes.

Most senior drivers will self retire from driving, however, others will fail to make a plan and attempt to continue driving.

Your GP will consider your medical conditions as well as check your vision and possibly cognitive and physical skills using a one of a number of standardised tests. Your GP or Consultant doctor may recommend a Specialised Elderly Driver Assessment.

The are two options available for further assessment

  1. Cognitive Fitness To Drive – An In Room Evaluation For Older Drivers with Memory Loss or Mild Cognitive Impairment: An in room assessment which evaluates the cognitive skills to drive and supports seniors who may have age related or condition related memory and thinking changes. At OT Brisbane we have established a standardised assessment of older drivers with suspected cognitive changes. You can learn more about this here at the Safe Driver Hub.
  2. An On Road Elderly Driver Assessment: A practical driving assessment which uses a driving instructor’s vehicle. This driving test is conducted by an occupational therapist who is qualified in driver assessment. The assessment also occurs with the support of a registered driving instructor and allows an observation of your practical driving skills.

Elderly Driving Assessment In QLD: The Driver’s Licence Rules For Seniors

At the age of 75 years of age you’re required to demonstrate medical fitness to drive. You must be certified as medically fit to operate a vehicle regardless of whether or not there is a medical condition.

If you’re deemed fit to drive, your doctor will provide you with a medical certificate. Depending on your circumstances you may be assessed as being eligible for an unconditional licence or your doctor may recommend that you be issued a conditional licence which will include restrictions related to speed, time of day or allowed distance when driving (QLD Department of Transport, 2022)

How To Maintain Safe Driving In Older Drivers

Driving means independence, is a valuable symbol as being a capable adult and for some it means freedom. Doing all that you can to stay Driving Fit and to keep your driving skills sharp can help you drive safely and independently for as long as possible.

Here’s what we see as key principles to help your driving independence and safety

  1. Keep physically and mentally active
  2. Stay up to date with road rules (especially give way)
  3. Respond to health and fatigue by modifying your driving routine or seek alternative transportation.
  4. Check your medications with you doctor to ensure they don’t affect your driving skills
  5. Eat well. Nutrition has powerful role in your overall health and wellbeing
  6. Prioritise your sleep. In this article we explored 6 ways to sleep better  to help prevent health and memory changes.
  7. Get a regular (yearly) memory health check up.
  8. Like above, get vision and hearing check ups on a yearly basis
  9. Make a plan for in the event when you may not drive. How would you work around this? Our Mobile for Life program covers this in detail.

This is very much is the basis of our work with people who come to our Memory and Thinking Hub or the Safe Driver Hub.

If there are threats to your driving performance, what actions can you do to help maintain your independence for as long as possible? What stands out to you?

In summing up we’ve shared with you the elderly driver assessment that seniors are likely to encounter as well as key actions to stay safe and independent on the road as you get older. Our tip- the sooner you start the more likely it is to have an impact on your life.

Looking For An Evaluation Of Your Cognitive Fitness To Drive?

If you are an older driver, the Safe Driver Hub will help identify your strengths and weaknesses in order to provide recommendations on how best to improve your safety behind the wheel.

Here’s How You Can Get Started 

If you’re over 75 years or are experience memory and thinking changes, then the Cognitive Fitness To Drive, an assessment for elderly and senior drivers.

You and your General Practitioner are welcome to refer for the inclinic driving assessment. To accept a referral from you we’ll need a medical referral and health summary.

Call  today 1300 783 200 or click “Request An Appointment” button below the form below and we’ll respond to you as soon as possible.

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