Practical Experience-Based Approaches to Assessing Fitness to Drive in Dementia

Frank J. Molnar, MSc, MDCM, FRCPC; Anna M. Byszewski, MD, FRCPC; Mark Rapoport, MD, FRCPC; William B. Dalziel, MD, FRCPC


Geriatrics and Aging. 2009;12(2):83-92. 

In This Article

After the Assessment: Disclosing That a Person Is Unsafe to Drive

Once fitness to drive has been assessed, if the findings suggest an unacceptable risk, they must be acted on. Many clinicians find the disclosure of unfitness to drive to be a difficult, if not painful, task that fundamentally alters the physician-patient relationship. They understandably express a desire to avoid this potentially confrontational situation as they fear it will emotionally harm patients and may result in these patients, and their families, leaving their practice.[27,28] As outlined in the Canadian Medical Association guidelines, physicians in most provinces are legally required to assess and report persons with dementia who are unsafe to drive.[3] Even in jurisdictions where reporting is not mandated, it is still possible for physicians to be sued if their patient with dementia injures others in a car crash. Disclosure becomes unavoidable. However, as in many areas of medicine, the manner in which bad news is disclosed can moderate the negative impact on patients and families. Table 4 presents an approach that has been employed clinically by one of authors (F.M.) and that has formed the basis for presentations given on behalf of the Ontario Alzheimer Knowledge Exchange (accessible on the Exchange's dementia and driving resource webpage at Once a physician has disclosed a finding of unfitness to drive, it is generally prudent to also provide the finding in writing to the patient and family as the patient may forget the conversation. A sample letter is provided in Figure 3. For legal reasons, the disclosure meeting (including the date and participants' names) should be documented in the patient's chart.

Figure 3.

Notification Regarding Driving Safety


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