Driving and Dementia – My Experience

James McKillop

“It is a bitter blow losing your licence and you have no idea just how crippling it is, until it happens to you.”

James is a person who lives with dementia and wants to share his experience of giving up driving.

No longer allowed to drive

Once you have passed your driving test, the law assumes you are able to drive unless you are disqualified for some traffic offences, or are judged no longer able to drive safely, due to certain illnesses, dementia being one.

It is a bitter blow losing your licence and you have no idea just how crippling it is, until it happens to you. Your mobility is turned upside down. Your freedom to get up and go at a moment’s notice is gone. You lose your independence. You may have to rely on others to get about. You feel a nuisance if you ask and are reluctant to bother busy people. It can be humiliating and demoralising. If lucky, you go in their chosen time, which may not coincide with your chosen time. For example, I might want to go and take a dawn photograph but the driver is only free in the evening. You are at their mercy.

Putting up a fight

If you are the partner or son or daughter of someone with dementia who has to stop driving, do not expect them to surrender their car keys without a fierce fight. If they do hand them over, feel lucky.

It is better to persuade them to cease driving out of love and concern for them and others, rather than have some official body wrenching your licence from you. After 12 years, I am still resentful!

Driving again after 12 and a half years

I have never lost my desire to drive again. I once mentioned this in passing to a member of staff at the organisation Dementia Adventure that takes people who may have been house-bound or in a care home for years on an adventure; an adventure they have longed for, for years.

Unbeknown to me, they made plans to make my dream come true. They told me they had arranged for me to go driving for two hours on an old airfield. A driving instructor would take me driving in a dual control car.

I am 74 years old, have dementia, and had not driven for 12 and a half years.

I was in control again

I wanted it to be like a driving test, so that I could handle the car like I used to do. I settled in and took off, no stalling or juddering. The instructor told me when to change to second gear and never advised me again. I went through the gears until I was doing 60mph. I could still hear the engine and knew when to change gear.

Beyond my wildest dreams

It took days for me to calm down after the event, I was on a high. I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined I would ever be behind the wheel of a car again.

When I got home, I found I could walk faster, as for some time I had been walking slowly, head bent. I found that I was able to recall facts from 50 years ago, things I had completely forgotten about. I was able to help more about the house, taking a little of the burden from my wife.

I was able to write this article by myself. My short term memory, notoriously bad, improved slightly. My sense of wellbeing was high.


Read James’ full story - Dr James McKillop, DUniv, MBE Driving and Dementia – My Experiences (PDF)