New project seeks to develop an online driver safety test for people with dementia

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University of Queensland researchers are working with people living with dementia to develop an online driver safety test that can be performed by GPs in their surgeries.

Approximately 472,000 Australians are living with dementia and there is currently no clear line when driving is deemed unsafe.

Dr Theresa Scott, from UQ's School of Psychology said there are many negative impacts when people are forced to stop driving.

Flaws in current driving tests mean people living with dementia are sometimes given no formal assessment, or they are told they have to stop driving as soon as they are diagnosed even when they could continue driving safely.

Some people don't accept the decision to stop driving as they feel they haven't been fairly assessed, and continue driving which puts them and others at risk.

Our new fitness-to-drive assessment is the first reliable and valid test that incorporates real on-road footage and gives the person a 'behind-the-wheel' driver's perspective.

We hope this project will reduce traffic crashes, driving-related referrals and associated costs for health professionals, such as neurologists, geriatricians, and occupational therapy driving specialists."

Dr Theresa Scott, UQ's School of Psychology

The video-based fitness-to-drive assessment is based on the hazard perception test, which was used as part of the Queensland Government's driver licencing system and was developed by UQ's Professor Mark Horswill and Dr Andrew Hill, who are also involved in this project.

Limestone Medical Centre Partner and UQ Faculty of Medicine's Emeritus Professor Geoff Mitchell said the assessment tool would be hugely beneficial for GPs when they assess people living with dementia.

"Current office assessments conducted by GPs are fraught with risk, but the fitness-to-drive tool will mean GPs won't have to rely on paper and pencil tests that have no association with on-road driving ability," Emeritus Professor Mitchell said.

"Currently the tools available are blunt instruments, and GPs heavily rely on memory tests and opinions of loved ones.

"To have a tool that is practical, accepted, and reliable will be welcomed by all GPs who look after people with dementia.

"It will also help reduce the risk of fractured relationships with patients when refusal to grant a license occurs or GPs have to refer the person for further testing."

Awarded $1.3 million under the Federal Government's Medical Research Future Fund, the 'Navigating Fitness to Drive with Patients with Dementia' project also involves UQ Professor Nancy Pachana and is expected to be available by 2025.

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