Living with dementia magazine December 2011/ January 2012

A difficult decision

An elderly couple walk up a road with a bus stop on.

With more than 40 years of experience behind the wheel, driving was an important part of Adrian Harrhy's life. But four years after being diagnosed with dementia he made the decision to hand in his licence and tells Luke Bishop why.

For Adrian Harrhy driving was not just for work or convenience but also for pleasure. Adrian, the sole driver in his family, started driving when he was 20. He would take his wife and daughter for camping holidays and also drove all across the UK for work.

When Adrian, now aged 61, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, he continued to drive as he had done before. Two years ago he made the decision to drive less because of dementia and restricted himself to driving in and around his local area of Pontypool in Gwent.

Memory lapses

More recently, however, he started to notice that he was having memory lapses while driving and was sometimes unable to recollect his journey. He says,

'I was finding that when I was driving I was thinking to myself "Where am I?" I couldn't remember if I had gone through a certain place and gradually this seemed to get more and more often.

'I noticed this had been happening over a number of months. I was more worried about other people than myself as when I was driving I wasn't thinking about it, the concentration simply wasn't there. My wife comes with me most places as well so I was worried about her.'

Car park collision

It was an incident in a car park in nearby Cwmbran this August that prompted the final decision to give up driving for good, when he reversed out of a parking space and damaged another car.

'Without thinking, I drove out of the space. I didn't look where I was going or think about whether there were any people around and went into the side of another car. That was the main instigator of my decision to stop driving.

'As I drove home I thought about the accident. I had been careless. I was solely to blame and it was an awakening for the future. The safety of my wife, other people and me was uppermost in my mind during that drive home.'

Deciding to stop

When he arrived home after the accident he told his wife Cherry that he would stop driving and she was fully supportive of his decision.

She contacted the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the insurance company, and within two weeks the car had been sold.

Cherry says,

'Adrian hasn't looked back now. The main thing was it was his own decision, it wasn't a problem with his licence or anything like that.'

Adrian has no regrets about his decision to give up driving, particularly as his lack of concentration due to dementia could have led to a more serious road accident.

Getting around

Since giving up Adrian and Cherry get about by using the local public transport system, if they want to go shopping or visit the Society's local support services, for example. They also get lifts from friends as well as their Alzheimer's Society befriender, who visits the couple every Monday.

Adrian says,

'A good thing that has come out of this is that I have been getting more exercise through walking. I also have a bus pass and we do most of what we need to by using the bus. We find it quite comfortable and easy.

'At first we were disappointed about not driving. We thought it would be hard to do because of having to carry the shopping, but the bus services in our area are very good and there's a bus stop about 100 yards from our house. It doesn't really affect us too much, in fact we go out more now than we used to before.'

Driving after diagnosis

Like Adrian, people with dementia can continue to drive after they receive a diagnosis - but, by law, they must contact the DVLA and inform them of the diagnosis.

You will receive a questionnaire in the mail and the DVLA will seek medical information and make a decision about whether you should still be driving or not. Insurance companies must also be informed of the diagnosis.

Although many people with dementia like Adrian choose to give up driving because of safety concerns, others may be reluctant.

If you need advice about this decision, as a person with dementia or as a carer see alzheimers.org.uk/driving You can also consult the Society's Driving and dementia factsheet; see alzheimers.org.uk/factsheets or order a copy from Xcalibre on 01628 529240.

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