What Driving Means to Me

Simcoe County
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When Dieter was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease his driver's license was immediately removed. Read the road he traveled to get it reinstated.

Man smiling after passing driver's test

Hi, my name is Dieter and I have Alzheimer’s disease. Here is the story about my Driver's Licence suspension and the subsequent reinstatement.

    In November, the Geriatrician diagnosed me with Mild Alzheimer’s Disease. Consequently, he was legally duty bound to report my condition to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Driver Medical Review Office by fax right after the appointment. Within 4 days, I received a Notice of Suspension of Driver’s Licence stating that “Your Driver’s Licence is suspended... Reason: Evidence of medical condition that would affect your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.”

    I wasn’t prepared for this finality and needed to do an awful lot of analysis to come to grips with the ruling. This certainly was not the doctors fault. It was a prescribed legal requirement for anyone whose life has become affected with Alzheimer’s disease. The question I posed of myself, my family and my friends is whether the condition had affected my ability to drive in the recent past. The answers returned over a period of about 2 month.

    My driving record was clean. I was accident free and had received absolutely no tickets of any sort.  The amount of driving that I was doing had declined drastically in the past 3 years to less than 1,000 km per year. This was the result of self limiting overall driving activity and happily allowing my wife to do the majority of driving. The important people in my life did not feel that  my driving was a risk to self or to the public.

   Next, I considered why I might want to resume driving. The reasons were simple. I hoped to be mobile enough to visit with friends, to take my dog on hikes in the forest and to be available for my wife should she need me to drive.

    On the MTO Notice of Suspension appeared the following message, “Your Driver’s Licence will be reinstated when you file a satisfactory medical report.” The blank form to do so was included with the MTO letter. I broached the subject of pursuing reinstatement with my wife and she gave me the blessing to proceed. Her approval was very important to me.

    The MTO Cognitive Disorder Form was completed by the Geriatric Doctor and forwarded to the MTO. His recommendation was for me to receive a Functional Driving Assessment. I searched the internet and found that Skill Builders Physio & Rehab Centre in Barrie offered a comprehensive Occupational Therapy Driving Assessment. I made the appointment and they applied for the prerequisite 1 day temporary driver’s licence that can only be used on the day of the test and only for the road test portion.

    To prepare for the test, I practised at basically two locations, the off road area at a forest hiking trail and at the Power Centre, a very large convoluted shopping area in the south end.  The second of the two was perfect as was the fact that parking lot traffic was minimal due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

    Of course I was nervous when the test day arrived in April. My wife drove me there and patiently waited out the 2-1/2 hour period in the hallway. Good thing she brought a book. A woman of about my age was leaving as we arrived. She had passed her test and was relieved. This made me feel better. The testing was conducted by Maria who was an Occupational Therapist, Certified in Driver Rehabilitation and a Licensed Driving Instructor. The procedure included copious amounts of questions about my health and background, cognitive testing and computer driving simulations. Thereafter came the road test done in one of Skill Builders Hyundai. It lasted 45 minutes. In her final report, Maria indicated, “The skills and abilities shown by this client today indicate that Mr. Mueller is medically fit to resume driving.” I was ecstatic! Copies of the report were sent to my doctors and to the MTO-Medical Review Section via Fax.  In turn, the MTO advised by letter a few days later that my case had been approved and the licence suspension ended without any restrictions whatsoever.

   Since then, I’ve enjoyed taking my dog for walks in the Simcoe County forests and visiting friends,  all as I did before the suspension. My wife continues to monitor my driving and I will ask my children to do so as well about every 3 month. Alzheimer’s is potentially progressive in nature and monitoring for negative change is an ongoing  necessity. Should problems become noticeable, re-testing will be needed. Those near to me will insist on this and I will accept without protest
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Editor's Note:

Dieter's experience and outcome will not be the same for everyone who is living with dementia.  If you are faced with this issue and have lost your license or are planning for the time when your license may be revoked, please know there are other options.  Dieter additionally shared these alternatives with us:

  • Drive an E-Bike or an E-Scooter. They'll go up to 35 kph and do not require a driver's licence or insurance. Winter is problematic. I never reached the point of purchasing such a machine, though I was tempted. A former policeman let me know that this is what people do who had their license suspended due to drunk driving. 
  • Bicycling is also an option. This I participated in slightly.  
  • Be driven by someone else. In my case, it was my wife, also my son and a friend. 
  • Walking was also an alternative to driving for me.
  • Public transport i.e. buses, taxis is an option but since I had no destination and due to COVID-19, I chose to avoid this.

Visit https://alzheimer.ca/en/help-support/im-living-dementia/managing-changes-your-abilities/driving-dementia for more information or reach out to talk to one of our staff members about your questions and concerns. 

 

Driving and dementia is a tough issue faced by many people living with a diagnosis and their care partners. A diagnosis of dementia is not in itself a reason to stop driving.  However, over time, the progressive nature of dementia affects the skills needed for safe driving.  Find out more https://alzheimer.ca/en/help-support/im-living-dementia/managing-changes-your-abilities/driving-dementia