Driving with memory loss – An information leaflet

Memory loss is one of the conditions that can affect our ability to drive safely. This leaflet tells you what to do if you have difficulty remembering things and still drive.

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  • Why am I being asked about my driving?

    Driving is an activity which enables many of us to maintain independence, social contacts and leisure activities. Therefore it may be difficult to consider stopping. Sometimes, however, our driving may become unsafe because of health reasons, for example, as a result of significant vision problems, or not being able to react fast enough. It is then illegal to continue to drive. Memory loss is one of the conditions that can affect our ability to drive safely.

    Although many aspects of driving will still seem automatic, it is a complex activity that includes the ability to recognise what is happening around us, make split second decisions, (hand-eye co-ordination and manual skills) and undertake well co-ordinated movements.

  • If I have difficulty remembering things can I still drive?

    Memory loss in itself is not a specific reason to stop you from driving, but the important question is: can you still drive safely?

    If you have mild memory problems you may still be able to drive safely because of skills you have learnt over many years. However, your condition may get worse, with other skills being affected, and one day you may have to stop driving. The time to stop driving is different for each person but your driving should be reviewed regularly to make sure you are still safe to drive. The law requires this.

  • What should I do if I have difficulty remembering things and I still drive?

    If it is possible that your memory causes you to drive less well or if there are possible concerns with your driving. The first thing that you should do is inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that you have memory problems.

    The law states that you must tell the DVLA of any new medical condition that might affect your driving, or any existing medical condition that has become worse. People with dementia must inform the DVLA and their car insurance company of their diagnosis. However, being diagnosed with dementia does not mean you cannot drive. Many people with dementia still drive. If you have been diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), you do not routinely need to inform the DVLA or your car insurance company about the diagnosis. However, if the Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is making you drive less well, you should inform the DVLA or their car insurance company about the diagnosis and your driving.

  • How do I know when I am not safe to drive?

    When driving you need to be able to make sense of, and respond to, everything you see, such as road signs. You also need to react to actions of other road users and pedestrians. Memory loss can be a sign of changes in the brain and have a serious effect on your ability to drive safely.

    You may notice you have had some ‘near misses’ or ended up with bumps or scratches on your car, and these can be signs that your driving may be getting worse. Unfortunately, you will not always be the first person to notice if your driving is becoming unsafe. Family members or friends may notice first and tell you they are concerned about your driving, or they might avoid going in the car with you. If this has happened you should begin to think about whether your driving is still as good as it used to be. If you are unsure about how safe you are ask a fellow driver to sit in the car with you and ask them for an honest opinion.

    Sometimes, neither you nor your family will be able to tell if your driving is as safe as it needs to be, and a doctor might ask you to do some tests to look at this.

    You could also attend for a Driving Assessment at a Mobility Centre. Mobility Centre staff are very experienced at putting clients at their ease and do their utmost to be supportive to individual drivers. This is not a driving test; however the Mobility Centre team will consider all aspects of your driving, including medical fitness, vision, awareness, reactions and decision-making, as well as your physical ability to operate the controls. An in car assessment will be carried out on a driving track area, and where appropriate on public roads. Recommendations about your driving are based on detailed evidence of the driving assessment. For further information, please see the North East Drive Mobility Information Leaflet.

  • How can I reduce the risks when I am driving?

    A lot of people start to change their driving habits as they get older to reduce the risks.

    You can do this by:
    • Driving short distances
    • Driving on familiar roads
    • Driving at quieter times of the day
    • Driving during the day
    • Ask a friend or relative to accompany you on your journey

    Try not to:
    • Drive long journeys, or if you need to, plan regular breaks or share the driving
    • Take unfamiliar journeys
    • Drive in heavy traffic
    • Drive at night
    • Drive in poor weather conditions
    • Drive when you are feeling tired
    • Drive when you are feeling unwell

    Some medication prescribed by your doctor, such as sleeping tablets, or medication for anxiety, depression or other psychiatric disorders can also affect your driving ability.

    If you take any of these, or are worried about any other medicines you take, ask your doctor whether you are still safe to drive.

  • What if I have any other questions?

    If you have any concerns with regards to driving with memory loss please discuss them with your care manager, consultant or GP as soon as possible. They will be able to help you with any questions you may have.

  • For further information contact:

    • DVLA
    SA99 1DL
    Medical enquiries: 0300 790 6806

    • North East Drive Mobility
    Walkergate Park
    Centre for Neuro Rehabilitation and Neuropsychiatry
    Benfield Road
    Newcastle upon Tyne
    NE6 4QD
    Tel: 0191 287 5090
    Email: [email protected]

    • Alzheimer’s Society
    Devon House
    58 St Katharine’s Way
    E1W 1JX
    Helpline: 0300 222 1122 (Monday-Wednesday, 9am-8pm, Thursday and Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday, 10am-4pm)

  • References

    1. Assessing Fitness to Drive: A guide for medical professionals (2021), DVLA
    2. Driving with dementia or mild cognitive impairment. Consensus guidelines for clinicians (2018) UK, Newcastle University.

  • Other formats, references and review

    Further information about the content, reference sources or production of this leaflet can be obtained from the Patient Information Centre. If you would like to tell us what you think about this leaflet please get in touch.

    This information can be made available in a range of formats on request (eg Braille, audio, larger print, easy read, BSL or other languages). Please contact the Patient Information Centre Tel: 0191 246 7288

    Published by the Patient Information Centre
    2022 Copyright, Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust
    Ref, PIC/398/0422 April 2022 V5
    www.cntw.nhs.uk Tel: 0191 246 7288
    Review date 2025