Senile drivers cleared by GPs
From the Daily Telegraph
ROAD safety is being jeopardised by an estimated 80,000 drivers with senile dementia who still have a licence to drive.
New research has found almost two thirds (61 per cent) of general practitioners will allow an older driver with mild alzheimers disease to continue to drive a car.
And 21 per cent of doctors would give a frail, medically unfit person a restricted local licence, a survey published in the Australasian Journal on Ageing has found.
The survey of 175 general practitioners in the retirement boom zone of the NSW Central Coast has prompted its author to call for a new screening test for licences.
Dr Peter Lipski from Gosford Hospital's Department of Geriatric Medicine says older patients should be subject to a new mini-mental exam before getting to keep their licence.
Doctors should also ask a reliable informant about the person's driving habits and ability before signing off on a licence, he says.
Drivers with early alzheimer's disease have a five-fold greater chance of being involved in a car crash, Dr Lipski said.
And older drivers, whether they have dementia or not, are 22 times more likely to be killed for every kilometre they drive compared with 40 to 49-year-old drivers.
The survey has also raised serious questions about the adequacy of the NSW Road Traffic Authority's on-road driver assessment.
"One third of GPs have patients who have passed the NSW RTA driving test but [they] would still be regarded as medically unfit to drive a vehicle," Dr Lipski says.
The survey reveals that doctors have major worries about cancelling a patient's licence, particularly if public transport in the area is poor.
Fifty four per cent of doctors say they are worried about losing the older patient's business if they cancel their licence.
"There is generally a high level of anxiety and concern about cancelling a vulnerable, frail older person's driving licence when they could potentially be physically and socially stranded at home," the report says.
Seventy nine per cent of doctors say they have never cancelled an older person's driving licence.
Dr Lipski says there are 800,000 licensed drivers aged over 70 and studies show at least 10 per cent of 70 years olds will have dementia.
"There may be up to 80,000 demented drivers on Australian roads ... this may be a major health problem," the study says.
Only 41 per cent of doctors feel they have enough training to assess a person's driving competency.
"The survey results suggest that not all GPs are aware of the regulations for medical driver assessments, are not routinely screening older drivers, are not adequately trained in driver assessments, allowing medically unfit drivers to continue to drive," the study says.
"There is generally very little official guidance on what GPs' should do with drivers with dementia compared to other medical conditions," Dr Lipski said.
You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, 'Parking Fine.'So that was nice.