Old and still driving

18 July 2013

A conference report from the BGS Spring Meeting in Belfast, by Liz Gill.


One of the most negative images of older people concerns older drivers. Yet by any yardstick they are the safest group on the roads, as Prof Des O’Neill, consultant physician in geriatric and stroke medicine at Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Dublin, pointed out. There were issues though with increasing age and it was worth geriatricians getting involved with assessing someone’s fitness to drive.

They should be opportunistic in asking patients about driving – “it’s not about stopping them but about facilitation”. They should look at both the patient - their general fitness,  their medication, their cognition and alertness, their vision – and the car. What adaptations would make driving easier: a larger mirror, a swivel seat, a cheap version of which could be a plastic bin liner. “And don’t assume all frail patients don’t drive. I had an 80 year old man driving a car transporter. The numbers will increase as the retirement age goes up.”

Wherever possible, doctors should get a witness history of a patient’s driving and encourage anyone who sees dangerous driving to report it to the police. They should also make use of occupational therapists and specialist driving assessors. They should advise regular onroad testing for patients with early dementia and plan for later life. “And remember, patients who can’t drive probably can’t use public transport either, so start looking at alternatives.”

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