Sunday, 22 May 2011

Dementia + Driving = Disaster?

I bet you're wondering about why there's a basket illustrating this post.  Okay,  it's a beautifully crafted piece of workmanship made by Deborah Muhl, an artist based in North Carolina, but wouldn't a picture of a beaten up car be more appropriate to illustrate today's ramblings?

Well, there is a tenuous link.   I'm writing this from the perspective of being an occupational therapist. There's an urban myth about my profession and, we are wrongly accused en masse of  forcing people to weave baskets.  Now I'd like to state that  I was monumentally bad at this activity when I tried it at college so I'm not going to inflict it on anyone else.  Our lovely craft tutor, Cynthia, had to finish mine for me and even then it was no great shakes.  No-one's ever stuffed a bunny in my company either.
We're also expected to know loads about toilet seats.  Et voila! there's something that  I can help you with.  The height of the average UK loo is 16".  I have the sad ability to spot even a slight deviation from the norm at a hundred paces!

I picked up this questionably useful skill when I worked on a physical rehabilitation ward.  It was there that I first read an factsheet from the Alzheimer's Society,  'Dementia and Driving'. 'No blooming way!'I thought, ' Dementia and driving simply aren't words that go together'.  But are they?

Since changing tack in my career seven years ago and moving to a mental health team for older people, I've encountered many people with the illness who still drive.  Let me say from the start, even though I work with the philosophy of enabling people to live as full  lives as possible, I'm not going to give blanket approval to this.  It is clearly dangerous for someone to be behind the wheel, if they can no longer problem solve, concentrate, control impulsive behaviour or have severe problems with disorientation, have lost the ability to sequence a set of steps in a task, react quickly etc,etc......Sadly in a rural area  I also  meet non driving spouses who disagree with this viewpoint.  By recommending that their husband or wife should no longer drive, I'm seen as cutting of their lifelines and condemming them to a very isolated existence.  Oh, and I don't condone the practice of  one man who whipped on the L-plates and was giving the wife lessons after his licence had been revoked.  Believe me, it's a true story!

What surprised me when I first started this job and became more well acquainted with dementia, was that there are quite a few people with the illness that maintain their ability to drive safely for some time after they've been given a diagnosis.  Forgetting names, being blissfully unaware of what's going on at national and international level in the world and not knowing the date or time are not necessarily barriers to the activity. If this post is relevant to you or a relative, I'd urge you to follow the Alzheimer's Society link above.  It's full of really wise advice, including how to prepare for the time when car usage becomes a no no.

PS: 'Yobbos', as Papa Lovelygrey calls them, rather than a forgetful old soul,  were probably responsible for the car crash depicted above.   I'm sure you'll agree that it's  less pretty than the basket!

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