Behind the Wheel with Dementia

Dementia sufferers most likely to stop driving based on decision of caregivers

(RxWiki News) Some reports say that dementia patients may be more likely to have car accidents while driving. But are accidents the reason that people stop driving when they have dementia?

A recent study found that about 40 percent of people with mild to moderate dementia were still driving. The number one reason that people with dementia stopped driving was the caregiver’s belief that it was too risky. Very few people stopped driving because of accidents or having their license taken away.

"Talk to a doctor about driving risks and dementia."

The study, led by Stephan Seiler, MD, of the Department of Neurology at the Medical University of Graz in Austria, sought to find which factors were considered when dementia patients stopped driving.

The researchers looked at patients who were part of a long-term dementia study in Austria.

They enrolled 240 people with dementia who had driven at some point in their lives. All types of dementia were represented – including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, vascular dementia and others.

The researchers found out who was still driving and who had stopped driving. They asked the caregivers why dementia patients stopped driving.  They also asked about symptoms and caregivers' feeling of burden or stress in caregiving.

Results showed that 145 patients (or about 60 percent) had stopped driving.

Of the patients that stopped driving, 136 (93.8 percent) stopped driving because of the caregiver’s decision that driving was too risky.

Only 8 people stopped driving because of accidents, and only one person stopped driving because the license was revoked.

The decision by caregivers to have patients stop driving may have been made based on symptoms. In this study, patients with more severe symptoms were more likely to have stopped driving. Also, patients whose caregiver had a higher level of burden were more likely to have stopped driving.

The authors concluded that caregivers' risk judgments – and not accidents or license issues – were the reason most people with dementia stopped driving.

This study asked caregivers to rate reasons as: too risky, accidents or license revoked. By restricting the reasons they could choose, the study cannot provide specific reasons about why the caregiver rated driving as risky.

This study was published December 26 in PLosOne. The study was funded by grants from the Austrian Alzheimer Society and the Jubiläumsfonds of the Austrian National Bank. The authors declare no competing interests.

Review Date: 
January 3, 2013