Experts on dementia have stressed the importance of professional assessment before allowing patients with Alzheimer’s to drive.
In a statement Saturday, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) said while some people with mild Alzheimer’s dementia may still be able to drive safely, people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease are often not able to. As the disease progresses, it can cause their memory, reaction and decision-making abilities to decline. The challenge lies in getting the person to stop driving once it has been assessed that they are no longer able to drive safely.
“Everyone with dementia will eventually lose the ability to drive safely and although the time at which this happens will be different for each person, most drivers with Alzheimer's disease stop within about three years of the first symptoms. People who have driven a car for most of their life often find it hard to give up driving in older age as they see it as a sign of growing more infirm with age and losing their independence,” explained Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, director of the Public Health Department, Ministry of Public Health.
“As the Alzheimer’s dementia symptoms progress, patients can have behavioural and psychological symptoms associated with the condition, which can add to their distress and result in them not being able to drive safely and possibly being a danger to themselves and others. However, people with any form of dementia are often not able to assess their deteriorating driving skills or the risks that they pose to themselves and to others when they are behind the wheel of a car. While it can be very difficult to discuss driving restrictions with an elderly relative or friend, it is important to do so early in the diagnosis,” added Sheikh Mohamed.
There are different ways to approach this delicate subject, but all require the family members or caregivers to start the conversation with the individual. It might be helpful to involve a family doctor or geriatrician in the discussion to explain why it would be better for them to stop driving. Involving the individual in the decision making and finding a suitable alternative to them driving can be helpful.
“We encourage people to visit a Memory Clinic in their primary health centre or at Rumailah Hospital, where they can get a simple professional assessment. Another option is to call the Raha Alzheimer’s and Memory Services Helpline, which aims to provide confidential care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and support for their families. The helpline was one of the new services introduced for elderly patients during the Covid-19 pandemic; it is available at 4026 2222 between 8am and 3pm from Sunday to Thursday,” explained Dr Mani Chandran, geriatric psychiatrist at HMC who helps run the Memory Clinic, which assesses the cognitive abilities of people who experience various symptoms associated with dementia.
Dementia is the term for a group of symptoms that occur when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease or diseases of the blood vessels that can cause a stroke. These diseases can result in a significant decline in that person's mental abilities or 'cognitive function', which affects their capacity to remember, concentrate, reason, and think clearly.
Dr Fatma Alkuwari, PM&R programme director and assistant chairperson, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department at Qatar Rehabilitation Institute, has been helping raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia in Qatar and explained the importance of education.
“Patients and their families who understand the symptoms and how they can manage them find it easier to cope with the condition. The World Alzheimer’s Month theme of 'Let’s Talk About Dementia' is perfect to encourage more dialogue on this topic, which in turn will lead to more education and understanding, and consequently to reducing stigma,” said Dr Alkuwari.
“Our aim is also to encourage people to adopt healthy lifestyle choices when they are younger to limit any negative impact of ageing. There is a lot that people can do earlier in life, such as remaining active, good nutrition, looking after one’s physical and mental health and more; all this will help towards staying fitter, healthier, and happier later on in life,” she added.