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Doctors Raise Concerns About Drivers With Dementia

By raccars Published

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Doctors have claimed that the UK's outdated licence system is allowing dementia patients to keep driving when it is not safe for them to do so. At the annual conference of the British Medical Association in Liverpool this week, leading members will put forward a motion requesting research into the implications of allowing elderly people to continue to drive. If the motion is approved, the research will be carried out by the BMA's science board.

Some medical experts have gone so far as to claim that allowing dementia patients to continue to drive is as dangerous as allowing them out with a shotgun. They believe that the British licensing system needs to be updated to reflect modern medical procedure and the demands of a growing population of elderly drivers.

The motion being put forward at the BMA conference is being led by GP and BMA council member, Dr Peter Holden, of Matlock in Derbyshire. He claims that although dementia patients may possess good hearing, eyesight and motor skills, they may be unable to process information about their surrounding environment while driving. He claims dementia removes the brain's ability to integrate the many faculties used while driving.

At the moment, UK drivers must reapply for a licence when they reach 70. The DVLA requires applicants to inform it of any significant medial conditions, including dementia, but there is no way to enforce this. Dr Holden is not putting forward any suggestions for reforms to the system but recommends research into the potential dangers. He claims that a number of dementia patients are able to follow familiar routes out of habit but are unable to cope with potential hazards.

Given that many elderly people do not declare their illness when re-applying for their licence at 70, Dr Holden claims it is impossible to know how many of them are still driving. However, he suggests that with an increasing population of elderly drivers, the UK needs to establish a new system for ensuring fitness to drive.

The Alzheimer's Society has dismissed Dr Holden's concerns and claims that dementia patients can continue to drive safely, accusing him of scaremongering. It believes that assessments should be made on a case by case basis, on an individual's ability to drive safely rather than simply as the result of a dementia diagnosis. It says it is collaborating with the DVLA to work out how best to do this.

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