Cognitive testing in Ontario
What are the changes?
Starting April 21, 2014, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation is changing the driving licence renewal process for drivers 80 years and older to include cognitive screening. The tests are designed to identify a driver’s ability to recognize objects on the road and react to situations.
Other elements of the program include:
- A vision test
- Education session
- A review of the driving record
After drivers have completed all components of the Licence Renewal process, they may be asked to take a road test or submit medical information from their doctor.
Ontario drivers over the age of 80 must renew their licences every two years as part of the Senior Licence Renewal Program. Changes to the program will mean a reduction from 3 hours to 90 minutes for seniors to complete the process.
Why is driving an important issue to discuss?
People living with dementia want to remain independent for as long as they are able without posing risk to themselves and others. In the early stages of dementia, driving capacity related to cognition is usually intact; however, as the disease progresses ability to drive becomes impaired. Identifying driving risk in a timely way is important.
Some of the cognitive changes caused by dementia affect judgement, reaction times, attention, perception, and planning abilities—to name a few— which are critical to driving.
Loss of one’s licence at any age affects one’s ability to remain independent. For those living with dementia, this loss is compounded by the many other losses they experience. This can lead to further dependency, depression, isolation and may impact self-image.
While effective driver screening methods are needed, additional supports are needed to:
- Ensure that these processes identify at-risk drivers due to cognitive impairment
- Aid family members who have concerns about someone with dementia’s ability to drive
- Provide people with dementia who have lost their licence with opportunities to work through this loss and strategize about how to continue to remain independent despite no longer being able to drive a car.
“Many people associate driving with independence; the fear of the loss of driving privileges is likely to be upsetting. That`s why we encourage a constant dialogue between seniors and their doctor about memory concerns or other cognitive changes.”
-- Kathy Hickman, Alzheimer Society of Ontario, Education Manager
Support through the loss of a driver’s license, information about local resources and working with the individuals to develop strategies to remain independent are available at the Alzheimer Society.
To learn more about the issue of driving and dementia, Primary Care providers are invited to visit the AKE Resource Centre and learning module. Individuals and families should contact the Alzheimer Society and can download the driving and dementia tip sheet.