Mike Stevens | Apr 21, 2010

ALZHEIMER'S Australia NSW is calling on the RTA NSW to develop a specific test for drivers suffering from dementia, to protect other motorists.

A study by Alzheimer's Australia NSW has found that existing driving tests are inadequate, because the impact of dementia-related lapses in memory, concentration and vision can vary day to day - a fact which can make it difficult to measure a person's ability to drive.

''There has been research to suggest that drivers with dementia may pass a driving test under controlled conditions, but may be unsafe in an uncontrolled environment when they must rely on their own cognitive abilities,'' Alzheimer's Australia NSW CEO, John Watkins said.

“We need better, more appropriate testing regimes, better information about the rights and responsibilities of a person with dementia in regard to driving, and better transport options for a person with dementia and their carers for when they are no longer able to drive,” Mr Watkins said.

One in four people over the age of 85 are affected by dementia, and there are more than 90,000 licensed drivers in NSW over the age of 80.

Mr Watkins said that, with Australia's ageing population, improvements need to be made to the current testing regimes, and urgently. There are an estimated 257,000 dementia sufferers in Australia today a number expected to grow to 1.13 million by 2050.

He acknowledged that driving - often considered a 'right' - is a contentious and emotional issue not only for the person with dementia, but also their carers, family and friends.

“This is a complex issue and is about balancing the rights of a person with dementia with public safety,” Mr Watkins said.

The organisation is recommending that the RTA NSW - and other related bodies around Australia - look to develop more comprehensive testing for people with dementia, and provide more information to older motorists about their obligations.

NSW Minister for Transport and Roads, David Campbell said that the report shows that the issue of elderly drivers and the potential danger they pose on the road is one that will only become more prevalent over time.

“The discussion paper shows this issue is not one that is going to go away and action needs to be taken to better support people with dementia and their carers,” Mr Campbell said.

“I am supportive of the discussion paper and am pleased to confirm that the RTA will work with Alzheimer's Australia NSW on some of the recommendations.”

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