Older and wiser: older drivers

Article published 20 April 2022

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THAT older drivers are among the most responsible drivers on the road is demonstrated in a letter to CPSA by the President of its Dubbo Orana Branch, Ken Windsor.

It has come to the notice of some of our members, Ken Windsor writes, that there are GPs who are remiss in reporting patients who are clearly unsafe to be driving.

During discussions, several examples were given where acquaintances were known to be unfit to drive but doctors continue to sign-off on the annual medical report.

No-one in our group wishes to lose the ability to drive, but the danger to other road users and pedestrians must be taken into consideration.

We are aware that people with specific medical conditions must undergo an annual doctor’s review and those over 85 are reviewed by the RMS every two years. Is anything in place to capture the people outside these groups whose ability slowly declines?

Are there any specific rules for GPs to abide by? And, if so, who polices them?

Whether or not GPs always able to pick up declining driving ability is a fraught question. They are expected to, but the only professionals really qualified to assess driving ability in older people or people who have recovered from a stroke or other injury are occupational therapists who have specialised in this area. However, that’s not covered under Medicare. Our understanding is that GPs aren’t particularly happy about having to do these assessments.

Everybody seems to agree, though, that the vast majority of older drivers ‘self-regulate’. This means, for example, that many won’t drive in the dark or in bad weather.

It is likely that in most cases where older drivers won’t recognise they are no longer able to drive safely, mental decline is at play.

This mental decline may not be obvious and only be able to be diagnosed by a medical specialist, a geriatrician.

The problem is that geriatricians are in short supply.

To help ‘self-regulation’ along, the NSW Government and University of Wollongong have released a new resource to help older people to make informed decisions when it comes to driving.

The Driving and staying independent: A decision aid for older drivers resource, takes older drivers through five steps to assist with making decisions about whether to continue, modify or retire from driving.

As the NSW Minister for Seniors points out, the aid will go a long way to supporting their decision-making as well as assist family to convince older relatives their driving concerns them.

Central to the Aid is the fact that mental decline is a big factor in loss of ability to drive safely.

The decision aid will help older drivers consider how to continue driving safely for longer. It will also help with deciding what to do if a person is required to drive less or to retire from driving.

Also read: Is your term deposit slumming it? and the Opposition Leader’s response to Budget 2022: aged care and housing .

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